If you count that experimental iPad album that they released a few years back, Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz have released four albums in their digital career. Of all of them, I still believe their self-titled debut is the most cohesive and emblematic of their glorious, hijacked bounty of genres. Gorillaz, which came out in the year 2001, is a rare example of me actually being cool at the right time, albeit for the wrong reasons. I bought the CD, using money I was supposed to spend on books, as a thirteen year-old alongside two very embarrassing CD singles that I will not name, ever. (OK, one was this.) It was prominently displayed in the store and the cover, which featured the animated primates joyriding in a jeep, was fascinating to me. I hadn’t even heard ‘Clint Eastwood’ yet. I put it on at home, got to the third track and promptly decided I hated it. I wouldn’t listen to it again for at least 6 months. And when I did, it was all over.
I’m of the firm belief that you can like Blur without liking Gorillaz, but the reverse isn’t really true. So much of Albarn’s specific style, from that unmissable, semi-wasted vocal drawl through to his rhythmic guitar attack, carries over into his other project despite all the cosmetic changes. ‘5/4’ is perhaps one of the most Blur-esque songs in the entire Gorillaz catalogue, meeting halfway in a delightful sonic boom of weird before the rappers took over and it was all about writing what essentially killer backing tracks for the new guard. It’s a rock song tricked out with a junked-out hip hop drum kit. It’s a Beck Odelay riff with cheerleaders and an In Rainbows pulse. I can name on one hand how many good songs there are with 5/4 time signatures, much less those with straight beats that ride across the top so that it doesn’t even feel unnatural. Once that fuzzy bass comes in right before the chorus, it blossoms out into this weird scrapheap of sounds that’s defiantly British but also totally weird. I mean, the very short chorus is comprised only of the lyrics “She turned my dad on!”
And yet, for all the experimenting and trying to be unncessarily weird just to get a rise out of people – that wheezing, smack-addicted Casio taking its final puffs in the second verse probably wasn’t a vital inclusion, ‘5/4’ really rocks. You find yourself nodding yourself in and out of time and the meter catches up with itself every four or five bars (depending on how you’re counting), as Albarn, freed from the contraints of being the biggest thing of the ’90s including Oasis, adopts an entirely new, aggressive persona. The way he clips his words in the verses here is almost like he’s chomping down on a muzzle, the kind of choppy delivery that’s entirely different to the soaring Brit Rock melodies that made him famous. But we don’t actually know it’s him at this point. Because it’s only 2001 and nobody has really figured out that he’s the guy behind the cartoons, and that the cartoonist is the same guy who did Tank Girl. All we know it that this is super-weird, but it’s also cool in a way we don’t quite understand. Our ears aren’t sure if they like it, but our feet feel like they do. That’s likely the best endorsement a planet of apes is going to get in this lifetime. So strap on your Brubeck shoes and jump in the Jeep.
Gorillaz – ‘5/4’