Released on the 23rd October, Gorillaz returned with their brilliant, new, seventh studio album, Song Machine, Season 1: Strange Timez. This project began way back in January, with the initial release of single ‘Momentary Bliss’ (featuring Slow-Thai and Slaves), and was released episodically throughout the year via a series of singles and video skits, finally culminating in its full album form.
Gorillaz have returned back to their traditional guest-star-strewn nature, in contrast to minimal collaborations featured on 2018’s The Now. ‘Song Machine’ however, contains an array of highly varied artists and even boasts the names of music legends; Robert Smith and Beck, alongside more contemporary artists such as Slow-Thai, Schoolboy Q and St Vincent. The biggest got from the project is definitely Elton John who provides powerful vocals to the track ‘The Pink Phantom,’ alongside Atlanta rapper-singer 6LACK.
Although it features a highly eclectic list of collaborators, ‘Song Machine’ avoids the over-expansive self-indulgence which characterized 2017’s Humanz. Instead, it emits the feeling that the various artists featured, were selected on the basis of bringing something different to the album, as opposed to feeling like an entourage of big names simply used to drum up courtesy applause in the musical equivalent of a celebrity sitcom cameo. Furthermore, despite the incredible diversity of genres featured on ‘Song Machine’, the album does not seem like a mess. Instead, it flows effortlessly; seamlessly moving from post-rave ambiences to robot-pop, funk, new wave and hip-hop, even ending on punk track ‘Momentary Bliss.’
The album’s main highlight has to be ‘Aries’ (featuring Peter Hook and Georgia). The track features a hallmark ‘Hooky’ baseline seemingly fresh out of Power, Corruption and Lies, alongside perfectly crafted vocals from Damon Albarn and a sublime synth and electronic drum combo. However, the album is certainly held back by its lack of a stand out anthem; it definitely feels like it needs it’s equivalent of a ‘Feel Good Inc.’ or a ‘Clint Eastwood,’ which immortalised the band’s first two albums. Moreover, ‘Song Machine’s’ the fifteen-track deluxe version is definitely more challenging listening and is far more reserved for fanatics of the band than the more accessible standard edition.
Overall, the album is definitely Gorillaz’s best material in a decade and provides some much-needed comfort listening, that we all have needed in 2020.
Image: Renegade Music