The Now Now, the sixth full-length from Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s cartoon band Gorillaz, is the spiritual cousin of 2010’s The Fall, an album that was created entirely on the road, recorded directly into an iPad. This one is a little more fleshed out than that, with many of the songs conceived and demoed in hotel rooms during last year’s Humanz tour but then properly recorded in London’s Studio 13 with the help of current band members James Ford and Remi Kabaka.
But like The Fall, this new record rolls along like a travelogue of the journey that Albarn and co. undertook in 2017 through a world that was shaken to its core by some serious political upheaval. In contrast to the lightness of the music—a sleek funk that feels like what songwriters and tech geeks from the ‘80s imagined the future would sound like—the lyrics are paranoid and despairing, sorrowful and confused. The lines are often not so clearly drawn, and there are shades of 13, the 1999 post breakup album that Albarn made with his band Blur throughout, but the dark, foreboding clouds that hover over everything here will feel familiar to anyone who has picked up a newspaper or opened their Twitter accounts at any point in the last 18 months or so.
The Now Now was also an album created in almost near-isolation. There are fewer high profile guests on here than on any previous Gorillaz record; just some quick interjections from Snoop Dogg and Chicago house producer Jamie Principle and a touch of guitar work from jazz legend George Benson and Albarn’s Blur cohort Graham Coxon. That feels like both a reflection of the speed in which these songs were created and committed to tape and an echo of the desolate tone that he lyrically commits to.
The album feels like the product of someone slipping slowly but steadily into the depths of their personal and existential confusion. The chipper bounce and swing of tracks like “Hollywood” and “Lake Zurich” starts to melt away as The Now Now trundles forth so that by the time the final trio of songs starts up, the music is completely engulfed in gloom. The psychedelic shimmer of the intertwining keyboard lines on “One Percent” is underpinned by the sound of feet marching on crumbling ground and everything from the light trap beat to the honking bass notes that run through “Fire Flies” sound like they’re crumbling to pieces.
Albarn does offer the glimmer of an exit sign with the final song “Souk Eye.” Over the sound of a cheap drum machine and a repeating acoustic guitar figure and the intrusions of synth noise, he sings a metaphor-heavy love song, putting the city of Los Angeles in the place of an otherwise unnamed person that he’s willing to “be a regular guy” for. Albarn could be singing about a lady or he could be speaking to the U.S. as a whole, feeling sad for a country that produced a beautiful, complicated city like L.A. He still loves it, but he has to go now. Take us with you.