If you still have adrenal fatigue from the last Gorillaz album offering Humanz, a frenzied, post-apocalyptic party record that only gives us a few songs to breathe on, their newest release The Now Now may be the sonic come-down you’ve been subconsciously craving. I’ve been reading some pretty lackluster reviews of it so far this morning, it felt like even Pitchfork was phoning in their 6.8 rating, which contained the kind of extraneous detail and ho-hum observations found in a paid Yelp review. Did y’all really feel this album was 6.8-worthy? Because I’m the kind of Gorillaz fan who almost always hates their new releases upon a first listen, but I’ve had enough exposure to the project to know Gorillaz typically push the limits of my taste into new territory and I’ve grown accustomed to letting them make me uncomfortable.
On that note, I would argue The Now Now is the easiest Gorillaz has ever been on me as a listener. If Humanz was a marathon, I feel like The Now Now is Damon Albarn offering me a hammock and cold beverage after the fact. It doesn’t feel like a wholly separate album from Humanz, it feels like the other side of the same coin. The lead single and album opener with George Benson “Humility,” a summertime feel-good jam with a Jack Black-does-Venice-Beach music video, is the polar opposite of the last album’s singles “Hallelujah Money” and “Saturnz Barz” which were dark and weird and deliberately creepy. For those of us who love the indie side of Gorillaz more than their hip-hop side, The Now Now feels like everything we didn’t get from the last album. I for one appreciate Damon Albarn giving us something so easily digestible – life in 2018 is chaotic enough, I just want to listen to some new tunes and relax!
The only element of the release that requires some thoughtful, deliberate digestion, is the narrative Damon’s come up with to explain the band’s new sonic direction. This brings me to a preface from Pitchfork’s review that I do wholly agree with, which is that it’s hard to resent him both because he’s so musically adept and so obviously in love with his own work, it’s downright adorable. Back to the emerging shift in the imaginary band’s narrative; since the release of Humanz, bassist Murdoc has been in jail at Wormwood Scrubs for a crime he swears he didn’t commit. His unexpected incarceration gave singer 2D the chance to take full creative control of the band for the first time in it’s nearly 20 year history.
If you read the interview the Gorillaz characters did with Noisey last month or even the one NME ran this morning with 2D and Russel, they’re both pretty much the silliest most indulgent things you’ve ever read. I absolutely love the mythology of this band, but when the biggest bite I’m able to get out of their ever-evolving story is from the press and not from a video or some beefier piece of content, it does feel a bit like Damon’s playing around because he’s just really feeling himself right now (or dare we say now now?); like he’s not taking it all so seriously this time. It turns out that’s the rogue element of this release I now have to push myself to get comfortable with, at age 50 Damon seems like he’s just having fun and not trying so hard to make a statement.
There are some standout tunes on The Now Now, personal favorites include the traipsing mid-tempo carnival ride of “Magic City” where it feels like he’s looking down at human evolution and realizing perhaps the human race isn’t as hopeless as he once thought. Both “Kansas” and “Idaho” are slow-burning, contemplative, soulful jams with a certain brightness to the production that lets you know right away they’re not going to make you think too hard; they both wash over you like warm bath water. The most subtle cut on the album “One Percent” is also one of my favorites, but I’m not quite sure why yet. Maybe because it’s there’s a familiar degree of Damon’s proprietary brand of melancholy in both the vocals and melody, or maybe it’s because I love the subject matter “the training ground for a new world.” The last song “Souk Eye” feels like Gorillaz covering a never-before-heard Kings of Leon song in their own weird way, it’s brooding yet unpretentious and I love it!
In short, don’t let the haters steer you away from The Now Now – a Gorillaz album is never what anyone expected and that’s the best part.