Gorillaz: Song Machine Season One: Strange Timez review – the poignant sound of social distancing

Damon Albarn

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(Parlophone)
Damon Albarn’s cartoon band mark their 20th anniversary with a document whose star visitors – Elton John, Robert Smith and St Vincent among them – are folded right into a fluent, sensible entire

Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s Gorillaz project has bought tens of hundreds of thousands of albums, spawned No 1 singles, broken America in a method no Britpop band (together with Blur) ever managed, gained awards, headlined festivals, spawned its personal pageant – Demon Dayz – and staged vast transcontinental area tours. All this without it ever turning into clear what Gorillaz is meant to be. An alt-rock star’s prolonged sneery joke on the expense of manufactured pop? A catch-all repository for a musical polymath’s teeming multiplicity of concepts? An act of self-indulgence, or a courageous, boundary-pushing experiment that typically works to startling effect and typically very publicly fails?

At numerous points since their 2000 debut, Gorillaz have encompassed all of those issues: they have lurched from feeling like a stoned folly to a brilliantly creative reimagining of what a pop band may be; from a postmodern gag to the supply of evidently heartfelt concept albums about environmentalism and the apocalyptic tone of life in the 21st century; from being the item of Noel Gallagher’s derision to featuring Noel Gallagher as a particular visitor.

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