Gorillaz’s latest album, The Fall, is an oddity, but an enjoyable oddity.
Recorded using an iPad during the band’s Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour, the album is a shift in style for the group.
But in it, the band has done the seemingly impossible: It has produced an electronic album entirely on the road.
Gorillaz’s first album had a strong alternative hip-hop sound, but slowly the band has moved to a more pop overtone.
The samples, beats and guest rappers are still there, but Plastic Beach was bubblegum-like in its pop sensibilities. With The Fall, Gorillaz take a dramatic step away from that pop sound, creating a mix of electronica and ambient music.
By eschewing its pop sound, Gorillaz has embraced a minimalistic feel.
Instead of rapid-fire beats and a roller coaster of highs and lows, The Fall is very much a calm river. Each song simply flows without any big distortions in pace or tempo changes.
Oddly enough, this is experimental for the band; it’s much more electronic than previous albums. Vocals take a backseat to the music, and the computer effects dominate the tracks, throwing a wide range of sounds and samples over the more rhythmic elements.
The album, which was recorded on the road, is a reflection on the nature of travel.
The tracks are immersive and reflective, drawing listeners in and letting them get lost in the relaxing, somber music.
Each song on The Fall follows this languid mood, offering slightly hypnotic pictures of the American road through the band’s eyes.
The lyrical imagery in The Fall helps this reflective mode continue, with songs like “Little Pink Plastic Bags” crafting the image of an empty highway with aimless souls wandering off into the sunset.
There’s a strong sense of exhaustion and futility in the track, as if frontman Damon Albarn was worn out by the U.S. tour while he was recording it.
Even when Albarn’s vocals take center stage in songs such as “Revolving Doors,” the track as a whole is more cyclical and repetitive in content, matching the pulsing music instead of going for a linear verse-chorus-verse progression.
Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and other cities are name-dropped, but in a random order, conveying the constantly changing locations Gorillaz must adapt to as it tours the country.
There are moments where Gorillaz throws in sounds that mirror the changing landscapes of the album. “Aspen Forest” has a more European-house feel, while “Revolving Doors” and the opening track “Phoner to Arizona” have a sparse, desert-like tone.
The most prominent stylistic touch in The Fall is the use of radio chatter and static cutting between songs or overlaid on top of them.
Random songs or talk radio segments float between the tracks, emphasizing the album was produced on a road trip, not in a studio.
The radio chatter blends perfectly into “The Parish of Space Dust,” a country-sampling song with a slow build that lets the listener get lost amid the static.
Then there’s the Bobby Womack collaboration, “Bobby in Phoenix.”
On the surface, it’s an R&B-tinged love song driven by Womacks’ soulful vocals.
But put into the context of the rest of the album, the breezy track’s mellow chords and vocals bring to mind an end-of-the-road vibe, helping to wind The Fall down as it gets near its end, shifting seamlessly into “California and the Slipping of the Sun.”
The Fall isn’t an album likely to get heavy radio play or fit the more dance-oriented sound Gorillaz has developed in its traditional studio records.
But the band manages to blend its genre-crossing approach with a usually low-key sound.
And through that, The Fall is the perfect record to listen to while driving across the country.