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Reviewed by David Medsker
Perhaps the most pleasant perversion associated with Demon Days is the Gorillaz’ choice of producer. They enlisted Danger Mouse, the man who made his name assembling the most illegal album in history (the Jay-Z/Beatles mash-up The Grey Album, done without the permission of either artist), and his versatility suits the band well. From the ominous, “Dawn of the Dead”-sampling “Intro,” the band slips into the dub-inspired “Last Living Souls,” complete with a vocal from Albarn (sorry, 2D) that’s straight from a Kinks record. In fact, 2D cribs from Ray Davies more than once; first single and current iPod jingle “Feel Good, Inc.” (shhhhh! It’s a scathing anti-war cry in disguise) steals entire verses of “Sunny Afternoon.”
The most curious aspect of Demon Days may be how much of it sounds like vintage Blur. Blur’s last album, Think Tank, was lost in a haze of indecision, mainly in part to guitarist Graham Coxon’s departure. A couple years’ distance has done Albarn good, as his songwriting is much more focused, yet looser at the same time. Witness “Dirty Harry,” which is like “I’m Just a Killer For Your Love” remixed by Tom Tom Club, or “O Green World,” another Blur-era track with a deliciously funky left turn.
The album’s biggest surprise, though, is “Don’t Get Lost in Heaven,” a Beach Boys-style piano riff complete with choir accompaniment. It’s one of the prettiest things Albarn has ever written, and serves as a fitting antidote to the lyric: “Don’t get lost in heaven / They got locks on the gate / Don’t go over the edge / You’ll make a big mistake.” And even that lyric pales in comparison to the preceding track, “Fire Coming Out of a Monkey’s Head,” a spoken-word bit (read by Dennis Hopper, no less) that tells the story of Happyfolk, Strangefolk, mining for jewels, and living in fear. Clearly, subtlety takes a back seat here.
For a band that was conceived more as pop art than as a pop group, the Gorillaz take a gigantic leap forward with Demon Days. Forget the cute videos like “Clint Eastwood” or “19-2000.” The long-term prospects for Gorillaz, at this point, are more promising than they are for Blur, Albarn’s “real” band. Either way, Matt Johnson must be beaming with pride to see the Gorillaz fighting the good fight.