Morrow vs. Hajduch: Gorillaz’ The Fall

Scott Morrow is ALARM’s music editor. Patrick Hajduch is a very important lawyer. Each week they debate the merits of a different album.

Gorillaz: The FallGorillaz: The Fall (EMI, 12/25/10)

Gorillaz: “Phoner to Arizona”
[audio:|titles=Gorillaz: “Phoner to Arizona”]

Morrow: Over Christmas, Damon Albarn of Gorillaz (as well as Blur and The Good, The Bad & The Queen, et al) released a free album of material called The Fall for paying Gorillaz fan-club members.  Recorded on the road during the American portion of the group’s recent Plastic Beach tour, the material (which can be streamed for free by non-paying mailing-list members) is most noteworthy for being entirely recorded and produced on an iPad.

The music isn’t the high-water mark that was Plastic Beach, which benefited from virtuosic performances by The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music and others and which featured high-profile guests such as Lou Reed, Mos Def, De La Soul, and many others.  But the songs are fun, dance-y little electronic numbers (with Albarn singing over some of them), and there isn’t much in the production that would tip it as being recorded on an iPad.  There are “legit” electronic instruments in the mix — Moogs, Korgs, etc. — as well as accents from traditional instruments, including a beautiful ukulele loop on “Revolving Doors.”

Hajduch: For an album hung on a gimmick and released quietly over a long holiday, The Fall is much more solid than I’d expected.  Gorillaz has been on a hot streak — Plastic Beach was great, and its previous album, Demon Days, is outstanding — but at times it’s hard to tell how much of the spark is Albarn’s, how much is the producer’s (I initially assumed that Dan the Automator was the brain behind the debut album until they got rid of him and the music gradually got even better), and how much it owes to guest appearances (De La Soul have had a lot of great moments over the past two Gorillaz releases).

Given its recording history as a solo endeavor, The Fall is pretty subdued in comparison to the usual Gorillaz kitchen-sink aesthetic.  But Albarn’s voice hasn’t changed a bit, and he can still write a tune, so there’s tons to like here.  The tracks are percussive, with a lot of drum machine beats and wonky bass synths.

The way that Albarn adopts a monotone and rides the beat to “The Joplin Spider,” before the whole thing changes keys and rhythm and morphs into a glossy, vocoded aside, is legitimately surprising.  So even when this album completely falls apart at the very end (nobody should have let “Bobby in Phoenix” happen, even if it is Bobby Womack singing), you got your money’s worth.  As far as free not-really-albums go, that’s a pretty good deal.

Morrow: For sure.  There’s also some random yodeling at the end, and it sounds like a few of those later tracks were scrapped together just to get the dang thing finished.  But indeed, it’s a solid release, and for free (at least while it’s streaming), it’s hard to beat.  EMI is issuing a physical release in 2011, and that should help tide over everyone’s CD collections (people still have those, right?) in case it takes another five years for a “real” album.

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