Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Gorillaz, Germany, and an Awkward Swim

In the summer of 2001, I took a trip to Germany with my family. I had it in my mind that I wanted to represent the better parts of American culture during my upcoming travels around Europe, but on our first night there, in Frankfurt, I still could not quite get over the fact that I had shared my hotel swimming pool with a pair of skinny-dipping strangers. After a quick (but thorough) shower, I sat down on the bed and turned on the TV, and predictably, most of it was incomprehensible. Of course, MTV Europe ended up being a source of entertainment, and I found myself particularly mesmerized by this:

The animated deadpan delivery of that irresistible chorus by 2D (as voiced by Damon Albarn) immediately hooked me. Its dry, restrained intellect seemed to unapologetically announce that I was definitely not in Kansas. Clint Eastwood was climbing the charts throughout Europe at the time, but it wouldn’t get any airplay in the US for several months. Before I left Europe, I had a copy of their first self-titled album in hand.

The album was, unfortunately, disappointing as a whole experience. It had a few pretty good songs, none of which were nearly as engaging as Clint Eastwood, and several rambling instrumentals. Many of the Gorillaz’s fans praise the album’s eclectic nature, but I think that there is a difference between an album that can’t decide what it wants to be and another when it fights with itself over its identity. For several years, I lost my copy of Gorillaz, but eventually I replaced it with an inexpensive used copy that I keep around for nostalgic purposes.

I re-listened to Gorillaz this weekend on the road, and overall, I can’t say as my opinion has changed dramatically. Aside from the genius that is Clint Eastwood, several of the songs are quite a bit better than I remember, but I think that the album would do extremely well with some editing and a shorter run time. It shows flashes of brilliance, but it doesn’t sustain them. This larger dynamic can be seen on a smaller scale on the track M1A1.

M1 A1 by Gorillaz on Grooveshark

I absolutely love the isolated feeling of the opening, especially as that call is subtly detuned to match the steadily building chords. When 2D enters with his dispassionate whining, however, it sinks the potential of all the tension built throughout the entire track. The song just doesn’t quite deliver on its initial promise, which is how I feel about the whole album.

There has been a recent release of a Gorillaz Greatest Hits album, which is what reignited my interest in the band. I am rarely a proponent of these compilations, but in the case of the Gorillaz, I might be willing to make an exception. On this first album, the Gorillaz have some amazing moments, but its inconsistency, whether intentional or accidental, made me lose interest in following them in the long-term.

As an aside, there was another big hit in Germany at the time that I clearly remember from that first evening with MTV Europe.

This song did not make it internationally for obvious reasons, so I’m not sure what happened to Seeed. Still, its slippery groove and raspy vocals pay an interesting tribute to the dancehall styles that were all the rage in the late 90s and early 00s.  

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