It’s #GorillazWeek! I reviewed the debut album yesterday, now it’s Demon Days turn…
On we go. Four years after the debut albums release, to mass critical success and a couple of swings for a UK number 1, Demon Days became the studio album follow-up for Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s brainchild.
Demon Days is a slightly longer, more grandiose effort than its predecessor. Where Gorillaz sucked you in and huddled you tight with its ghost stories, Demon Days put you in a cannon and scattered you all over the musical spectrum.
Even the intro track, suitably named Intro, is a gorgeous minute of pure orchestra, that sets up the real cinematic feel of the entire album. The band stuck their flag in the dirt early in their attempts to show that they were playing with much bigger and louder toys this time around.
Whereas Gorillaz held its sadness on its sleeve, being relatively skin-deep in terms of its concept, Demon Days requires a little more digging to really get at the core of the albums intentions. Released a year after George Bush’s re-election in 2004, around the time of murmurings of international conflict, Demon Days has a real protest feel at its heart, that songs like Last Living Souls and Kids With Guns make no qualms about addressing. The album itself is by no means a political record, and time has since distanced the tracks from that position further, but the message is there for a listener should they want to indulge themselves in it.
The first few tracks on the album, the aforementioned Last Living Souls, Kids With Guns and O Green World, are some of Albarns’ best vocal performances to date on any of his projects. All of them have key instrumental differences which make them undeniably separate, with Kids With Guns structured drumbeat and O Green World drowning in synths for example, yet all are brought together by 2-D riding each beat to deliver a strength and depth that was found in patches at best on the debut album.
The album moves on to two big singles for the band, that had different forms of success. Where Dirty Harry was more soulful, almost choir-like at times with a hugely impressive feature from Bootie Brown. Again, the connotations to warfare and its consequences are prevalent, not least in the fact that the video is set in the middle of a war zone.
Feel Good Inc, the second of these two singles, could easily be argued as Gorillaz biggest record. It only really has competition from Clint Eastwood and DARE across Gorillaz entire discography. Blessed with a Castle In The Sky type video, a simple yet beautiful chorus from 2D, and one of the most iconic features on a song since the turn of the millennium, it has an energy and power level to it that we had previously not seen the band get to.
On the subject of features, DARE has perhaps a more recognisable name attached to it (at least to UK audiences) in Shaun Ryder from Happy Mondays. DARE is ambitious, and that ambition pays off twofold, producing one of those rare moments when “Is different type of Gorillaz song” and “Is good” meet happily in the centre of the Venn diagram. Ryder holds his own with a more high-pitched Gorillaz sound to produce what may be the most classic record of theirs.
All Alone, my personal favourite on Demon Days, has an absolute barnstormer of a feature from another UK artist, this time a rapper in the form of Roots Manuva. The production means that Roots ends up going toe-to-toe with the beat, and thankfully for the listener it ends up a score draw, with each side punching as hard as they can. This is all ignoring the fantastic sections containing Albarn but in particular Martina Topley-Bird, which transition in and out of the main beat with exquisiteness.
Not to say this album is perfect. White Light has to be one of the most annoying Gorillaz songs of all time. Even though the intention is pretty clear, I just don’t know why you’d want to sound drunk on your own album. It’s the song that feels the least like 2D out of any other, and I’m thankful that it only lasts the two minutes. It’s a stain on the album that fortunately is pretty easy to ignore.
Which leaves two clusters of songs unspoken for, which, when you think about how cohesive Demon Days sounds on the whole, sound surprisingly different from one another. November Has Come is more of a modern effort for 2005, but is similar to 19-2000 from Gorillaz in that it does nothing better than another song can on this album.
The debut album vibes from El Mañana and Every Planet We Reach Is Dead, however, show what Albarn and his team are able to do now the production aspect of the album has been stretched out that bit further. Songs like these simply don’t exist if the experimental sound from the first wasn’t exactly that; experimental.
I had to save what is literally the best for last, though. All Alone may be my favourite, but you’ll find me arguing with absolutely nobody that the title track from the album isn’t the best song on here. The choir progression, hollowed-out vocals, and wonderful gospel verses give this iconic and wonderful album the send-off it deserves.
All of this is made better with Don’t Get Lost In Heaven serving as it’s prelude, a song I actually prefer (just) and believe is the most emotional Gorillaz song they have ever, or will ever, produce. It smacks you over the head with just how simply it can astonish.
Demon Days is Gorillaz best work. It was massively well-received when it came out, and even now it has stood the test of time and perhaps even grown in its strength over the years. We still live in the same forlorn and tense world Gorillaz portrayed for us in 2005, and Demon Days will always be there as a route of escapism, of protest and of joy away from modern tensions. It’s a museum of work that deserves to be enjoyed again and again.