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Virtual Band Gorillaz Brings Intimacy And Eager Energy To 'The Now Now'


This is FRESH AIR. Our rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of a new album by Gorillaz called "The Now Now." Gorillaz is often referred to as a virtual band. It consists of four members who are animated characters appearing in cartoon videos. The band is co-created by visual artist Jamie Hewlett and musician Damon Albarn. Here's Ken's review.


GORILLAZ: (Singing) Calling the world from isolation 'cause right now that's the ball where we be chained. And if you're coming back to find me...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: In the music video that accompanies that new song "Humility," the Gorillaz character called 2-D roller skates around what looks like California's Venice Beach - sometimes in tandem with a live-action Jack Black, himself a kind of human cartoon. It's a bright, cheery animation that's at odds with the lyric of the song in which the word isolation pops up a lot as the narrator fights a losing battle with it. "Humility" kicks off the album, and the brightness of its pop melody versus the darkness of its sentiments sets the tone for the rest of this album "The Now Now." There's a satisfying crunch to a medium-tempo tune such as "Kansas."


GORILLAZ: (Singing) I'm not going to cry. I got more time to give. I'm not going to cry. Find another dream. Am I incapable of healing? The memory of my fall from grace in your heart. I'm on my journey home with no fuel alone. I think I'll coast awhile. I'm not going to cry.

TUCKER: The chief musical human behind Gorillaz's cartoons is singer and songwriter Damon Albarn, who's also the lead singer of the British band Blur. The music Albarn writes for Gorillaz is a mixture of pop and electronic music and hip-hop. Albarn, as a Gorilla, sings most frequently in a languid croon emerging from an electronic filter. It gives his voice a ghostly resonance - a lofty, aloof air.


GORILLAZ: (Singing) Every sound - every sound from every world - received. Every world receiving you. Anyone - not anyone of us who is in search - everyone's receiving you.

TUCKER: Gorillaz's previous album, 2017's "Humanz," was stuffed to the gills with guest stars, including Grace Jones, Noel Gallagher, Mavis Staples and the rappers Vince Staples and Pusha T. The collection had the air of a major effort - a cartoonish, grand opus. This new album, "The Now Now," is smaller scale. Its guest musicians are limited to cameos by Snoop Dogg on one track and jazz guitarist George Benson playing on the song "Humility." The result is a more intimate album, as well as a less chilly, more inviting one.


GORILLAZ: (Singing) I'm on the high ridge looking down. While we're evolving, I get old. If I get back, then I'll be grateful. Look, there's a billboard on the moon.

TUCKER: Gorillaz has now been in existence for two decades. Damon Albarn has turned 50. You'd think the musical adventures of cartoon characters would bore him by now, but "The Now Now" possesses an eager energy. He begins the album singing the line, calling the world from isolation. And as the album proceeds, it reveals itself as an argument for engagement. It's not a wispy wish for connection. It's a bold assertion of it - a friendly insistence that no matter what our difference is, we ought to remain sympathetic to each other. There's nothing cartoonish about that sentiment at all.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Gorillaz's new album called "The Now Now." After we take a short break, our linguist Geoff Nunberg will consider the differences between American and British English. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRED KATZ'S "OLD PAINT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.
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