The Now Now recaptures the sense of narrative that Humanz lost.
The fourth phase of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's virtual band project, commenced in October 2016 through the release of a series of small digital books; offering updated accounts on the surreal lives the then dispersed gang had continued to lead after their adventures at 'Plastic Beach' (2010). Noodle was in Japan, disguising herself as a geisha to assassinate a demonic shape-shifting criminal overlord; Russel found himself washed up on the shores of North Korea before being transferred and detained in its capital; 2D involuntarily hitch-hiked in a whale's stomach to make his way to Mexico and Murdoc, as enigmatic as ever, was captured by EMI and naturally assigned to round everyone up for the production of album number five. Whilst the campaign itself in the run-up to release day may have retained the strong sense of concept and narrative, however, in spite of the excitable reviews which came out to meet it, 'Humanz' (2017) could also have been interpreted as a hatchet job through a series of perspectives.
Despite chaos and hysteria being consciously implemented themes in accordance with the nightmare-come-true scenario of a socially mimetic vulgar materialist becoming the leader of the free world, the narrative found itself unnecessarily broken off, mostly through stylistic incoherency. The exuberant level of collaboration simply glossed over the very formula which made 'Gorillaz' (2001), 'Demon Days' (2005) and 'Plastic Beach' (2010) so definitive; giving the fans the impression that the intricate and eloquent pioneer has lost the ability to withstand his own company. What perhaps trumps this image in stripping the postmodern outfit of its place as a robustly conceptualized entity, however, is it being spoken of by its creator as a project that is infinitely loose; inaugurating its symbolic death. Needless to say, 'Humanz', along with a series of other songs streamed months after, projects this indecision along with the sense that Albarn had perhaps had too much to get out of his system to continue the story succinctly. As it happens though, this is not to be where the fourth phase comes to a close.
Immediately one could draw comparisons with 'The Fall' (2010), the atmospheric and desolate successor to 'Plastic Beach' which also resides 'very much in the world of 2D'. But whereas 'The Fall' (as helped by its name) could be conceived as projecting the fallout of phase three, an 'after' phase as opposed to an extension, 'The Now Now' could be considered a continuation or perhaps even a rebirth of the fourth phase which 'Humanz' greatly frustrated. 'Humility', the first of two singles released on the 31st May, accurately lays the foundations for a brighter, more groove driven, stripped back and slightly vaporwave tinged album; serving as the perfect accompaniment for a cruise across the Miami coastline in a convertible Cadillac; the extra-aesthetic pleasure from this comes from a sense of atmospheric nostalgia which, if anything, as with the western desert and the rocky mountains, is one of the longest standing and definitive features of the eclectic Gorillaz sound. What's more, unlike the persistent, frustrating and confusing entering and exiting of different voices in its predecessor, perpetuating a nauseating sense of Albarn being too keen to posture his social capital in a juvenile and unsubtle manner, the guest appearances in 'The Now Now' are more welcoming to the listener on the basis that they are allowed to be enriching and complementary to 2D's omnipresence. Snoop Dogg's prominent contribution in 'Hollywood', offering a throwback to the fashionable disinterest pulled off in 'Welcome to the Plastic Beach', arguably serves as a highlight regarding how the album succeeds in this regard. The melancholic allure of 'Demon Day's is also notably present, particularly in 'Idaho' which is carried by almost unnervingly paradisiacal undertones and 'Fire Flies', which one could describe as a waltz projected in synthpop programmed orchestration; harmonically directed by a modulating acid bass plodding beneath 2D's forever endearing murmurs.
When looking at it holistically, 'The Now Now', compared to the chaos of the earlier stages of the phase, feels something like a resolution after a meltdown; an upwards milestone within the process self-realization. Perhaps the North American tour, which Albarn was on when he sought about developing new material to play at future concerts, helped him into this process of finding a less conflicted sphere for himself to develop and harvest ideas. The result is an album more assured in its own purpose, closer aligned to what continues to uphold the project's nonidentical status and quite simply, more Gorillaz.
Check out more GigList album reviews here