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Demon Days
Virgin Records

Just as people started to wonder aloud if we had heard the last of the Gorillaz, the side project of Blur's front man Damon Albarn, rumors started to surface that a new album would soon be on its way. A short time later a somewhat incomplete Demon Days began appearing on the Internet and the single "Feel Good Inc" was starting to see airtime on MTV and the like. Apprehension that the Gorillaz's sophomoric release would not be nearly as good as their first was the gloomy undertone to the talk of many the fan. The uneasiness only increased as word spread that Dan "the Automator" Nakamura was not asked to continue on but, instead, DJ Danger Mouse was taking over the production board. That was not the only disconcerting change in lineup; MF Doom and De La Soul were given the honor of laying down those phat hip-hop lyrics that were once the responsibility of DEL: tha funkee homosapien. In fact the only constant from the prior album, other than of course Albarn himself, is that Jamie Hewlett (of Tank Girl fame) is still giving animated life to Noodle, 2D, Murdoc, and Russel.

Why would someone want to go and change the recipe that so unexpectedly produced a platinum selling album? The obvious answer is that when you're a British pop star and this is your side project, you can do anything you goddamn want. In fact, perhaps in an effort to push a few buttons and to thumb your nose at the establishment, you could ask DJ Danger Mouse, the very same guy that EMI (the people that own the record label that both Albarn and the Gorillaz are on) recently threatened to sue for remixing the Beatles' White Album and rapper Jay-Z's Black Album to make the infamous Grey Album, to produce your record. Or, is Albarn's motivation even more devious? Could it be that one of the reasons that the first, and self titled, Gorillaz album did as well as it did was because no one expected it to be as good as it was? Surprise can be a great ingredient to stimulate interest in something. Conceivably Albarn set everything on its ear so no one would know what to expect, causing both trepidation and a good deal of buzz - a potentially volatile, and desirable, combination when you want your record to make a big bang when it hits the streets. When asked about the changes, Albarn just plays off the Gorillaz being a real band and says he has little to say in the direction of such things and that it was the collective artistic decision of Noodle, 2D, Murdoc, and Russel.

Whatever Albarn's motivation, be it artistic, ego, or some kind of publicity stunt, the end result is that it has made for a damn good album. If you liked that last album, you can almost be guaranteed to like Demon Days as it still has that indefinable and yet unmistakable Gorillaz vibe. Demon Days, as a whole has a much smoother feel to it compared to its heavier and more staggered predecessor, a distinctive difference in style between DJ Danger Mouse and The Automator. Fans will also notice a more homogenous nature to the songs as, while similar to the prior album, each song does vary stylistically, they do not stray as far from home as they have in the past. The subtle consistency between songs makes the album feel stronger as a whole and seems to help it present a more focused musical idea. While pulling off a more solid album, Demon Days still manages to avoid the monotony so often found on albums by mixing things up lyrically, both in what's being said and by who's saying it.

In addition to MF Doom and De La Soul, other notable lyrical guests that add a little distinctive texture to each song include Shaun Ryder, Roots Manuva, and Martina Topley-Bird. Lyrically it seems that the Gorillaz had more of a social and political statement to make this time, or at least more so than they may have made in the past. This is partially understandable as these days it seems that every thinking person (aka. pseudo-intellectual) seems to have an opinion on something and it is difficult to not let, and probably appropriate for, this to seep into your art. However, even a song with a name like "Kids With Guns" manages to not be a lecture and is surprisingly enjoyable - but then with its thick melodic bass line how could it not be?! Interestingly, one of the most socially critical songs is delivered as spoken word by Dennis Hopper in "Fire Coming Out Of A Monkey's Head", which is a decent combination of monolog, bouncing beat, catchy refrains, and humming. While Demon Days does not even come close to Rage Against The Machine political drudgery, it is curious that a cartoon band is politically and socially conscious.

The cartoon music video for "Feel Good Inc" is also worth praise all on its own - Anime fans will definitely see Studio Ghibli influences as it appears the Gorillaz may have outgrown their Flash art. The video is very much a good example of the beauty that modern animation is capable of. The choice of "Feel Good Inc" as the first song to make into a music video, and the single, was also a good idea and couldn't have been better made. "Feel Good Inc" has that infectious groove that easily gets stuck in your head, and the use of the hip-hop heavy weights De La Soul doesn't hurt either (although the way that De La was added to the video was kind of weird and possibly my only serious criticism of the video). "Feel Good Inc" also does a pretty good job summarizing the overall more-pop feel of the album.

Albarn describes the Gorillaz's sound as dark pop. But with several of the songs being near club dance tunes, it is almost hard to hear this darkness. Add in the strong hip-hop influences that seem to be infused with more of the songs than on the last album and the darkness can almost be missed until you dive deeper into the lyrics. The lyrics, with their strong political and social commentary, seem to be where much of the darkness hides. With a title like Demon Days it should be expected that dark things might be hiding in the shadows. Despite words like pop, dark, and dance, which are cliché terms that tend to be turn off's for most albums, surprisingly, they work well for the Gorillaz.

The key phrase for Demon Days would have to be 'Surprisingly'. To throw out a winning combination and start over from scratch, give the band a stronger socially critical voice, add a dash more pop, a pinch more darkness, turn up the dial on the hip-hop, and give it all a couple years to cook - the results are surprisingly, and very unexpectedly, good! It will take a little while to truly decide, but it is very possible that this album is even better than the last.

-J Sipes

Track Listing:
1. Intro ListenMusic
2. Last Living Souls
3. Kids With Guns
4. O Green World
5. Dirty Harry
6. Feel Good Inc.
7. El Manana
8. Every Planet We Reach Is Dead
9. November Has Come
10. All Alone
11. White Light
12. DARE
13. Fire Coming Out Of A Monkey's Head
14. Don't Get Lost in Heaven
15. Demon Days

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