With just one day before Gorillaz’s new CD Plastic Beach hits stores nationwide, I’ve been going back and reminiscing on this band’s wonderfully crafted music (and videos). We all know “Clint Eastwood” (I ain’t happy/I’m feelin’ glad/I’ve got sunshine/in a bag…) and “Feel Good Inc.” (Windmill, Windmill for the land/turn forever hand in hand…). But Gorillaz is not just a band… it is, in my opinion, one of the most creatively genius works of art in the history of music.
Created by former lead singer of Blur Damon Albarn and “Tank Girl” creator Jamie Hewlett, the band is composed of cartoon characters (2D, Murdoc, Russel, and Noodle), each with back stories and interesting facts. In 2001, their first CD (self-titled Gorillaz) rocked the charts as a combination of hip-hop, rap, and electronic, with hits like the aforementioned “Clint Eastwood” (featuring Del The Funky Homosapien, who plays a minor character in the band’s back story), slow, urban track “Tomorrow Comes Today,” and feeling-good pop song “19-2000.” The second CD, Demon Days (2005), was a major success for the band, bringing in many celebrity guests to rap, sing, and even read for the tracks (De La Soul, Bootie Brown, MF Doom, Shaun Ryder, Dennis Hopper, and Danger Mouse, who helped produce the CD). “Feel Good Inc.” hit the charts and quickly rated higher than any of their other hits, soon followed by children-anthem “Dirty Harry,” solemn “El Mañana,” and dance-worthy “DARE.” Now, 5 years later, Gorillaz has collaborated once again with Plastic Beach. Unfortunately, the only songs I’ve heard (so far) are “Stylo,” which is the first single off the new CD, featuring Mos Def and Bobby Womack, and “Superfast Jellyfish,” featuring De La Soul once more.
The music is really original in that it mixes different genres together to create a new type of sound. From “19-2000,” which uses techno, hip-hop, and reggae to sound like a bubblegum pop song, to “Don’t Get Lost In Heaven” paired with “Demon Days,” which uses a full string orchestra, choir, hip-hop, and reggae to sound epic and gorgeous, the band reinvents the world of urban music.
However, what makes them so interesting is the story behind the band, how they advertise themselves, and their use of advanced technology to create a fully-animated band.
Back in 2006, the “band” put out an autobiography called Rise of the Ogre, which not only chronicled the band’s successful music career but also the band members’ lives and personalities in and out of the band. For example, we find out that 2D has black eyes because Murdoc ran him over in a car, which dented one of his eyes, and was catapulted out of the dashboard window, causing his other eye to be pushed in as well. We learn the truth about Noodle, that she is really a secret Japanese government weapon, triggered by the words “ocean bacon.” We find out that the ghost of Del The Funky Homosapien was contained inside of Russel, and Russel had it exorcised out of his body before working on “Demon Days.” We learn about Murdoc’s obsession with being a Satanist and how he nearly killed a member of the band in one of the videos.
I mean, sure, this may not sound like a lot. But considering that this is all made up to coincide with a few CDs, that’s pretty incredible!
But that’s not all… to create this image of a fully-animated band, high tech equipment have made it possible for people to really feel like the members of Gorillaz are actually real. For the 2006 Grammys, the band performed a mash up of “Feel Good Inc.” and Madonna’s hit for the year “Hung Up” live. But, because of the band’s animated appearances, a holographic projection unit was set up on stage, allowing for the band members to look as if they were standing on stage in real life. Madonna was also holographically projected for the first part of her act, as she moves around the characters to interact with them. This is one of the first, and greatest, technical feats ever for a band to make.
Also, because of their animations, the band RARELY plays live shows (in fact, the only one they have lined up so far for their new CD is Coachella 2010). So, of course, each of their live shows out-does the other. The Demon Days tour included panels of changing colors, hiding the live band from the public, while the “guests” were on stage in front, brightly lit. On a large screen in the middle, pictures and video played to help visually attract the audience. Simplistic, but incredibly creative.
Personally my favorite part of the band’s creativity is what they put into their website. To help promote their band and to get their fans psyched about the band itself, they launched an interactive game on their website to explore the confines of their home Kong Studios. With the coming of each CD and hit came an update to the website… and as the lives and appearance of each character changed, the studio reflected it. For example, in the video for “El Mañana,” Noodle supposedly died at the end of the video (it was later revealed that she had not died, but was instead dragged into hell). After the video landed, Noodle’s room in the virtual world was stripped and began to fall apart every month. As the truth came out that she was actually trapped in hell, the basement of the website’s virtual Kong had a transmission of Noodle in a room, exclaiming that she needed help. Soon after the announcement of Plastic Beach, Kong was in ruins, with none of the rooms available. Thus, Plastic Beach was born: the newest interactive online game allows you to tour Plastic Beach, with new rooms opening pretty much every month. The website has won Webby awards for its creativity, and it keeps people interested and attached to the “secret” lives of the band. If you’re interested, go to the website!
So yes, Gorillaz has great music, but it goes beyond that. I mean think of it this way: 2 guys created a FAKE band with FAKE names and FAKE backgrounds… they used incredible technical equipment to make these FAKE characters REAL, and even set up strange situations for said FAKE characters (as in their Plastic Beach website). Gorillaz is no ordinary band. It is a work of creative genius. And, as Plastic Beach approaches, to quote one of my favorite Gorillaz songs, “Yeah, yeah, yeah I’ll pay/When tomorrow/Tomorrow comes today!”