I have to tell those who still consider Damon Albarn to be an indestructible leftover from the Brit-pop Chernobyl of the 90’s that they are making a mistake with him. Blur, as its very name indicates, is already a smudgey shadow on the musical horizon, a distant echo of times of melodic ingenuousness and freshness that for the new generations of listeners may be something like contemplating a prehistoric mosquito trapped in amber. In fact, while many of his contemporaries have just kept on insisting—typical Gallagher and Brett Anderson– Albarn has managed to keep his big ears pricked, and to come up with new sounds that go further than the obviousness and guitar nostalgia of fifteen years ago. He is the one who has survived the best.
The same nerve that leads him to stick his nose into new technologies in search of electronic truffles is what seems to have led him to “The Fall”. The guy with the Fila tracksuit assures us that he recorded this album using only his iPad and a few retro gadgets during the 2010 Gorillaz tour. It’s even been said that this is the first album from a mainstream group recorded with the Apple platform, although we also don’t know to what extent Albarn enriched the brew in the studio. But what does that matter? The truth is, the work has exactly that appearance, as if it had been recorded on a bus, in the lobby of an airport, in a hotel room bed, under a tent at a festival, after a long nap courtesy of jet lag. It gives off a static electricity that pinches your brain, giving you visions of highways at night and frosted airport runways, and it even makes you feel a little gloomy, without ever losing the futuristic freakiness that has always characterised the Gorillaz name, of course.
I’m fascinated by the sound that Albarn proposes this time around. While remaining faithful to the electromagnetic chaos of the “cartoon” group, “The Fall” floats in outer space, like the weightless islands of Pandora, and manages to line up concepts like success with the public and a commitment to evolution, concepts like reading glasses and a bowl of popcorn, on its bingo card. Damon handles the mix like Tom Cruise in “Cocktail”, and he gets an infinite celluloid strip with electro, hip hop, synth pop, country, dubstep, and God-all. But for all audiences. Without ever stretching people’s understanding. We might be looking at Gorillaz’ most crackling, anatomically out of proportion album ever. There are hardly any melodies that can be hummed, the mood is disturbing, the synthesisers coil around like sinister snakes, and Damon sings drowsily. The landscape seems strange and captivating.
There are deliriums that deserve our attention. “The Joplin Spider” is a psychedelic dub drill that has you going from perplexity to absolute surrender; the hammering rhythms, the “Space Invaders”-style special effects, and Albarn’s dragged-out verses have to be listened to under the influence of THC and high-powered headphones. In “Hillbilly Man” the madness is dizzying: it starts off like a country ballad, and then after the first minute the song turns into a punch of satanic dubstep with falsettos that leave you breathless. Another wonder. Then it is followed by “Detroit”, and it starts racking up triumph after triumph, in an album that gets more and more amazing. The homage that it renders to the techno of that city in the state of Michigan is cartoon-like, but exciting at the same time: it seems like it was made with a little Playskool hurdy gurdy in a rock limbo party with trippy grass. “The Parish of Space Dust” follows the same course: it is an unnatural combination of country, synth pop, and psychedelics that—God only knows why—ends up working even though it might sound like a broken hairdryer. “Shytown”, on the other hand, is one of the most magical moments: depressed soul, epic synthesisers, electronic winding around with IDM breaks, echoes of Massive Attack. Even the most orthodox cuts are equally dense. In this sense, “Revolving Doors” shows itself to be a perfectly well-rounded work and—what the hell—my favourite cut. Electronic pop wins the match on a board of future soul, with the ever-effective vocal stamp of Damon Albarn in a state of grace, a man capable of disarming you practically with his bare hands and the random electrode of craziness. Like in the best cartoons.