Damon Albarn is best known as the frontman of Britpop titans Blur, and for spearheading the virtual band Gorillaz, alongside comic book artist Jamie Hewlett. The thought of Albarn using a cartoon alter-ego to dabble in pop might have seemed bananas when they debuted 22 years ago. It can be difficult to take a band seriously when their members are named 2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle and Russel Hobbs. Yet somehow it works and appeals to all ages. Damon has evolved and departed from his distinct Britpop sound. Gorillaz is no pet project, as they have swung to the top of the charts with their eighth studio album, Cracker Island.
Is it blasphemy to admit I would rather listen to Blur and Gorillaz than Oasis? I can never write for Mag North again! Colin, please let this one slide. Damon's baby blue eyes have hypnotised me. I have gone crackers as he is old enough to be my dad – though, I would get lots of pocket money.
In true dad fashion, Albarn told Zane Lowe in an interview that he does not “dabble in the dark arts of the internet”. Cracker Island comments on how “social media is just an ever-spiralling madness of cults”. Albarn samples the eerie voice of Siri in “The Tired influencer” where he sings about our “cracked-screened world.”
Gorillaz has indoctrinated me into their cult, “The Last Cult,” and I have paid the price with my Northern soul. At least I can monkey around with the fictional band and the diverse range of big-name collaborators featured on this album. Albarn has brought together Bad Bunny, Tame Impala and Fleetwood Mac legend Stevie Nicks, who harmonises with him on the introspective track “oil.” Only Damon Albarn could persuade a pop-rock icon like Stevie Nicks to sing backing vocals for a group of dressed-up animated apes. I do not blame her as I would do anything he asked too. He is my leader.
The title track plays with buzzing 80s synths, Thundercat’s signature bass sound and the catchy hook, “forever cult”, that punctuates each line. Jamie Hewlett builds on the world and narrative he has created for these animated misfits. Fans are fascinated by the Gorillaz lore and piece it together across each album and interviews from the creators. I am slightly disappointed he did not create a cartoon alter-ego for each of the collaborators. He could have given Bad Bunny really floppy and exaggerated rabbit ears.
The “made-up paradise” gives Albarn the freedom to experiment with different genres including hip-hop, dub, alternative rock, and reggae. The potential for a cartoon band is endless. Gorillaz has achieved commercial success by teaming up with artists who all channel a different energy. The guest collaborators on previous records include Bobby Womack, Snoop Dogg, Robert Smith, Beck, De La Soul and Noel Gallagher. The Britpop war is over.
The cartoon primates are more than a gimmick; Gorillaz established this when they reached the US Billboard top 100 with their first single “Clint Eastwood”. They managed something seemingly impossible – to take an eclectic blend of artists and feature them on the same album without it feeling disjointed. The band has something that appeals to everyone. Perhaps, it shows you do not need to choose between Blur and Oasis. You can allow yourself to like both.
'Cracker Island' is available now on CD, Vinyl and across Streaming Channels.