When people think of the Gorillaz, the first thing that comes to mind is the iconic digital figures. Since 1998, Damon Albarn wanted to take his music in a more experimental direction. Jamie Hewlett, the creator of the comic, was the brains behind the animated group.
The digital members include Murdoc, often highlighted as the leader of the band; 2D, the singer depicted with barren eyes; Noodle, the lovable badass; and Russel, the drummer who is often possessed by ghosts that rap.
After releasing their debut album Gorillaz, which went Triple Platinum in the UK, their second album Demon Days truly showcased their evolution. Demon Days also saw great success, going platinum six times over in the UK and double platinum in the US.
Each track is experimental in nature, it is hard to see how it all fits together. The contrast between songs like “Demon Days” and “White Light” are like night and day in terms of their approach. However, the album still flows so cohesively it is almost impossible to skip a track when listening through. Damon achieves this feat in two ways.
The theme and mood are consistent throughout the album. The album is reflective of the negative state of the world as this was a post-9/11 album when the Iraq War was in full force. Although it is considered an American war, the UK also sent troops in support. The public was generally supportive when the war first began in 2003; however, the tide turned roughly a year later when the motives of the governments were in question.
Demon Days acts as a direct societal critique on colonialism and invasion. It highlights the negative practices used to exploit countries in the name of democracy and peace.
Damon also approaches the album as a mood piece. Even though one track to the next can be stark in contrast, the underlying themes resonate through. Damon touches on every topic from pollution, to violence, to deceptive corporate culture. The album also includes some of the most iconic features from the likes of De La Soul and MF Doom.
It is hard to pin down the intro in any way as it flows ominously. Sampling “Dark Earth” by Don Harper, the oboe coupled with distorted voices and jarring sounds of an organ leaves the listener uneasy.
Last Living Souls
Damon Albarn leans on his voice to establish a somber mood for the track. His distinct tone and range give the song a bittersweet sensation. The chorus which repeats the line “last living souls” over and over creates a sense of isolation and sadness. However, his voice at 1:37 accompanied by the piano gives the song an unrivaled beauty. Overall, the track is a look at life before death.
Kids With Guns
In this particular track, Damon Albarn is critiquing the media’s ability to desensitize violence, especially with regards to children. The inspiration behind the track dawned from a classmate of his daughter bringing a knife to school. The fascination coupled with the ignorance of impressionable children creates a potentially dangerous combination. The lyrics touch on all of the negative influences children are exposed to, from over-consumption of alcohol to the push towards gang life.
Musically, the culmination of the track of instruments comes to a head at 2:58 when the guitar charges in. The excellent mastering allows each sound to come in clearly while giving the song an unrivaled charge.
O Green World
This song directly addressing pollution has continued to be an ever-pressing and relevant discussion. In the world of the digital members, a post-apocalyptic world depicts a garbage-ridden planet. 2D describes his longing for a place where it is green and lush, however, we can infer that no place exists in the dystopian society.
Feel Good Inc
Easily touted as one of the most iconic songs of my childhood, “Feel Good Inc” depicts the control corporations have over people without their knowledge. In the music video, we see 2D in an isolated building looking longingly at the last piece of green land where Noodle resides. “Feel Good Inc” highlights that both counter-culture and freedom are given up at the expense of power, and 2D experiences disillusionment with success over those who are less fortunate. This is even more apparent through the acoustic guitar riff where Damon’s most powerful message resonates.
“Love is forever, love is free. Lets turn forever, you and me”
This is perhaps the most hopeful line in the entirety of Demon Days, a ray of light in what is otherwise a pessimistic view of the world.
It is difficult to not talk about each song on the album in its entirety, as each one offers a relevant and distinct message. Outside of punk-rock culture which saw Green Day‘s “American Idiot,” Demon Days remains as one of the most politically charged pieces of the era. Outside of its messaging, Damon really came into his own in terms of experimentation with this album. The instrumentation and mixing throughout made it one of the most distinct pieces of music of my generation.