Consisting of fictional members 2-D, Murdoc, Noodle and Russel, the “group” existed entirely in animated cartoon form and was spawned from Albarn’s growing appreciation for electronic and world hip-hop music, and they made their breakthrough in 2001 via their self-titled debut album and the mega hit “Clint Eastwood”, never looking back, only growing in success with further singles along the road like “Dare” and “Feel Good Inc.” until their eventual hiatus. 2017 saw them return with 26-track behemoth “Humanz” but 2018 sees them back already with the follow up album “The Now Now”…the question is, is it the good good?
We open up with the album’s lead single “Humility” which features famed jazz-guitarist George Benson and what we’ve got is a quirky little, low-fi synth pop piece…laid back in approach combining ambient funk and subtle reggae influences for a very fresh, Summery vibe. This is backed up by the music video, inspired by the Santa Monica lifestyle; carefree and easy-going, and it speaks of the inner struggles of failed romance and yearning, though not entirely serious with Jack Black doing, well, Jack Black things. It’s an OK start…follow up track “Tranz” however is a completely different kettle of fish. Whilst simple in structure and approach it’s got a definite, retro electronic tone musically combining the simplicity of KRAFTWERK and the edgier, darker tones of DEPECHE MODE, all the while utilising some really catchy pop hooks and it works wonderfully, this is easily an album highlight.
Sadly however, highlights over these 11 tracks exist in much the same way Harambe does; i.e. he doesn’t, not anymore anyway (RIP you majestic beast). “One Percent” harbours soft synth melodies that wouldn’t feel out of place in a scene from “Stranger Things”, while “Lake Zurich” is another up-beat, primarily disco / funk-driven instrumental for the most part and it has to be said, on the track “Hollywood”, it’s always good to hear a bit of SNOOP DOGG (Even though the guy will work with almost anyone, refer to my old COREY FELDMAN review for that)…the rest of the album however sadly lacks any real sort of momentum. “Idaho” is structured very much like a dreamscape which would not only put you to sleep, but the sheep you were counting too. “Fire Flies” strikes me as purely ironic and cruel as I’ve literally just reviewed an OWL CITY album and this track actually makes me miss that, before closing track “Souk Eye” rounds things up with some more dreary pop. Damon Albarn is a talented song writer and creator, that’s not in question, but there were days he used to write with a sense of positivity and fun, with more LIFE…lately this project sounds like he’s either half asleep or stoned, or both…honestly, take the W’s off of the album title and it’ll be more appropriate.