Album Reviews: Demon Days by GorillazAlthough it’s still ostensibly a “virtual band,” embodied by J.C. Hewlett’s multiracial cartoon quartet, Gorillaz is a very different animal for its second album, Demon Days. Gone are such key collaborators as Miho Hatori and Dan the Automator, and in their place are ex-Verve guitarist Simon Tong and DJ/producer Danger Mouse, the “it” boy of underground hip-hop thanks his now-legendary Beatles/Jay-Z mash-up, The Grey Album. Even more significantly, head Gorilla Damon Albarn is coming off the critically and commercially disappointing Think Tank, the first Blur album recorded without guitarist Graham Coxon. In the wake of that letdown, Albarn has announced that he won’t record another Blur album without Coxon, which suddenly makes Gorillaz seem like less of a diversion and more like his main gig.
Not surprisingly, then, Demon Days is a less freewheeling, risk-taking venture than Gorillaz’s 2001 debut, but in many ways, it’s a better album for it. The songs feel more fully fleshed out this time around, the melodies more evolved, the collaborations better integrated. Where a track like “19-2000” (a.k.a. the “Cool Shoeshine” song) on the debut disc felt like a Cibo Matto outtake with a Damon Albarn guest vocal, here guests like De La Soul and the Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder slot right into the Gorillaz sound without distracting from or dominating it.
Demon Days is still a far cry from a conventional pop album, as song titles like “Every Planet We Reach is Dead” and “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head” (featuring a goofy spoken word piece read by Dennis Hopper) will tell you. But the combination of Danger Mouse’s outstanding production skills and Albarn’s newfound focus on the project make for a heady mix of hip-hop, rock and dub infused with plenty of radio-friendly hooks. If the cartoon angle now feels more like a gimmick and less like an integral part of the band, that’s as it should be. These Gorillaz make music that stands on its own. - Andy Hermann
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