Gorillaz: Song Machine Season One: Strange Timez review – the poignant sound of social distancing

Damon Albarn

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(Parlophone)
Damon Albarn’s cartoon band mark their 20th anniversary with a record whose star guests – Elton John, Robert Smith and St Vincent among them – are folded into a fluent, brilliant whole

Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s Gorillaz project has sold tens of millions of albums, spawned No 1 singles, broken America in a way no Britpop band (including Blur) ever managed, won awards, headlined festivals, spawned its own festival – Demon Dayz – and staged vast transcontinental arena tours. All this without it ever becoming clear what Gorillaz is supposed to be. An alt-rock star’s extended sneery joke at the expense of manufactured pop? A catch-all repository for a musical polymath’s teeming multiplicity of ideas? An act of self-indulgence, or a brave, boundary-pushing experiment that sometimes works to startling effect and sometimes very publicly fails?

At various points since their 2000 debut, Gorillaz have encompassed all of those things: they have lurched from feeling like a stoned folly to a brilliantly inventive reimagining of what a pop band can be; from a postmodern gag to the source of evidently heartfelt concept albums about environmentalism and the apocalyptic tone of life in the 21st century; from being the object of Noel Gallagher’s derision to featuring Noel Gallagher as a special guest.

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