Song Machine – A Gorillaz Album Review and an Upcoming Film/Series

February 3, 2021

Emiliano+Baird

Emiliano Baird

By the looks of recent activity from the virtual group Gorillaz, it seems as if this year is turning out to be a great one for their fans. Recently in 2020, Gorillaz delivered a new album by the name of Song Machine that was accompanied by a YouTube series of music videos that accompanied the tracks. The most surprising part, it has been reported by official sources that another full length movie is in production that will feature the virtual group and will release in the summer of this year. The film will also be released while the band is working on the second season to their Song Machine series.

Here, this will only be focusing on the Song Machine album. This new album contains 17 new tracks that all feature a guest artist. Damon Albarn has been known to be a great collaborator with other artists, often featuring many artists on his albums such as Plastic Beach and Humanz. While Gorillaz have been releasing great visual content, I can’t say that I am a fan of their new album. In other words, I feel as if the album is a bloated rehash of recycled ideas. Since the bands 2017 release Humanz I feel as if the musical content delivered by the band has consisted of reused sounds, processed songs trying to be radio hits, and uninteresting musical courses. 

The album starts us off with “episode one” of this album titled Strange Timez which features Robert Smith, who pretty much leads the entire song. While this song gives a nice eerie introduction to the album with it’s off-tone horns and Robert Smith’s dramatic voice, the rest of the track is pretty lackluster for what the track could have been. Instead this track features Robert Smith repeating the same two lines over and over again with a plain beat over the background and the same melody over and over again. Sadly this track pretty much sets the tone of the album for the rest of its entirety. An okay listen around the first time, but it is not a track that will stick with you in my opinion, because it is a track to get bored of easily. 

With the track that follows right after Strange Timez, things don’t get much better lyrically. Valley of The Pagans is a track that features the artist Beck, while the track offers a little bit more musically which makes the track more interesting, we run into the same problem with its repetitive lyrics. The lyrics in this song are much more odd and don’t really make much sense. Beck cheerfully repeats, “I feel so good to be in total control, I feel so good to have a perfect song…” which sounds narcissistic, and then we have Damon Albarn’s sarcastic delivery of “Not before Christmas, not very likely. One hundred million Viagra tablets stored in a warehouse in a valley,” which then gets us back into the chorus. Overall this track was much more strange to me than Strange Timez which makes that ironic in a way, while the track does offer a little bit more musically, it only seems to accompany the strange vocal deliveries of Beck and Damon Albarn and their strange lyrics. 

In the third track we have our first rehash song of previous albums, we have The Lost Chord which features Leee John. Right off the bat whenever the beat starts playing I get an instant reminder of Saturnz Barz (Humanz 2017) with its laid back, spacey tone. Damon Albarn for the first time takes the major lead vocals on this track, while you can notice the difference between the track, it is noticeable that the same sound is still there that of Saturnz Barz but with more of a laid back feel with the soft vocals of Leee John in the chorus. The lyrics match the vibe of the track and overall is one of the better tracks on this album in my opinion. But sadly, The Lost Chord is one of many rehashes on this album. 

From the first three tracks the rest of the album is laid out on a nice spreadsheet, but don’t take that as a positive comment, it just makes the album pretty predictable on what the rest of the tracks will be. After listening to the rest of the album, I can categorize the tracks into about three categories: the bland and underwhelming, the rehashes, and the potentials. Given this album’s concept and huge list of features, it fails to utilize the artists talent and potential of the certain tracks. Among the bland and underwhelming tracks, songs like Chalk Tablet Towers, Simplicity, and Desole feel like a lazy and rushed effort from Damon Albarn in which he used his many featured artists to take over the lead singing role for him instead of using his own voice in which it takes more of the Gorillaz sound away from the album. Albarn’s choice of artists sometimes don’t even fit well with the tone of the music which clashes really hard and doesn’t leave a good taste in the mouth. Over that, each track usually only has one or two simple and small melodies that just repeat over and over again and there are no variations within the songs which makes them boring and are burnt out very quickly. 

In the group of the rehashes, I can clearly hear some recycled ideas from previous albums such as the bands 2018 release The Now Now which that album in itself was already a rushed and unnecessary project that featured soft indie and reggae elements. In Song Machine, tracks such as Dead Butterflies, Momentary Bliss, Simplicity again, and The Lost Chord are tracks that recycle the idea of the laid back reggae and rap like vocals. Dead Butterflies features two different style artists, one reggae, one rap, while the combination of reggae and rap can be a very good mix, this track fails to make it entirely work. The commercial sounding trap beat and light melodies that bounce over the track clearly reflects the overall vibe of The Now Now with a slight upscale. Dead Butterflies is an example that can show for almost all of these tracks in which the bands previous album The Now Now is reflected over and over again, which bloats the album more than it needs to be. Simplicity the same. 

Any track can have the potential to become a great song as long as the effort is put into it. While I haven’t pointed out the most positive elements of this album, there are a small number of tracks on Song Machine that I believe had the potential to be something decent and worth another listen. We have the tracks The Pink Phantom, Aries, and Opium. The Pink Phantom features the artists of Elton John and 6LACK, an interesting combination for sure, but the music does a decent job of combining some sounds of both artists. For example, the track features a piano and a string arrangement, which if you listen to anything of Elton John you would know that those elements are usually a big part of his sounds. The track is produced more modern with the hip hop beat that backs up 6LACK’s auto tuned vocals. The track seems like an odd combination, but each artist’s delivery works surprisingly well, often switching back and forth with each other  each verse. Unfortunately, the music production still follows the same bland formula from every other song on this album, I believe if both artists were able to have full control over the writing and song production, Damon Albarn could use his brilliant mind to mix together each of the different sounds together while also using his influence. But this track I believe only took slight influence from Elton John with the integration of the small piano and string arrangements which left the track sitting with me the wrong way at first, only because there was so much potential coming from these songs. I could go on about how much potential all of the other songs could have had, but that would be a much different topic than from a review. 

Although I have given much of this album much negative criticism, the album is not a bad listen overall, the album is just bland to me which makes me feel that the album was either rushed or maybe Damon Albarn had run out of good ideas to apply. Gorillaz has had very successful collaboration albums such as Plastic Beach and Humanz (despite the criticism it gets, I enjoy the album very much) which were both very colorful and varied in style and sound. This album could have had the potential to be a collaboration masterpiece along with its series of videos which could have been a huge mass media project. But everything feels rushed and I believe that maybe the band is trying to tackle too many projects at once which I believe led the album to be produced half-quality. Maybe if the band had focused more on the music first, and then focused on the imagery that comes along with it, this could have been a nice recovery from The Now Now, but now, Gorillaz has set themselves on a below standard bar in which I hope they can rise above again. I can only hope, but in the meantime, the upcoming video series sounds exciting in which I believe could allow Jamie Hewlett (the art designer of the band) to express himself more than ever. I also believe that the series could help back the songs which could help make the music more interesting because listeners will have something to watch going along with the album. Until then, I will attempt to try and warm up to the album to set the expectations for a future musical project from Gorillaz.

 

Favorite Tracks: The Pink Phantom, Aries, Momentary Bliss

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