Clambering on-stage with the confidence of a man caught in a champagne supernova, and stumbling through an ill-thoughted bash at Brexit in the midst of accepting a semi-deserved award, Damon Albarn – still at the helm of virtual wayfarers Gorillaz – was heading for the comedown of a midlife crisis. This comedown is reflected within the kaleidoscopic simplicity and solitude of Gorillaz sixth studio outing The Now Now.
If 2017’s overindulgent and inordinately ambitious feature-heavy acid-trip Humanz was the champagne supernova in full effect, The Now Now is its comedown. Whilst Humanz was a straight-up hip-hop-oriented outing, The Now Now sees Albarn derail this train of musical thought, opting for interstellar funk, disco synths and woodland folk, a cocktail of cloud-watching summer beats and glittering synths that paint emotional landscapes with swashes of monochrome, juxtaposing the light and the dark.
With comedowns come reflections and The Now Now’s lyrical pattern of thought is an introspective interrogation of lost loves, monolithic mistakes, and the allure of fame which consequently presents itself as a metaphorical monologue on Brexit – is Albarn pining for a drifting love or a drifting union between country and union? Written in the isolation of penthouse apartments, Albarn slips into the sublimity of solitude, his lyrics strikingly simple yet thought-provoking at the same time.
On the effervescent Magic City – a lo-fi explosion of faux-funk that floats you out to space – Albarn solemnly sings “you got me lost in Magic City, you got me questioning it all, I hope that I make it home by Wednesday, and this Magic City lets me go,” as if he’s suspended the disbelief of his own disillusionment that he’s obsessively brought-in to the very thing that disturbed him in the first place. This train of thought is The Now Now as a whole, the catharsis of a crumbling man who once held the world on his shoulders.
Isolation conceptually seeps its way throughout The Now Now, so much so it has you questioning at moments, particularly on latter moments such as Fire Flies and One Perrcent, if this is even a Gorillaz record at all and not a subtly indulgent solo display. It’s lack of features is surprising yet uncompromisingly critical to its success as a flowing masterwork, the utilisation of long-time collaborators Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle on the pop-pill that is Hollywood proving that if Humanz had organised its seating plan for its guests, it’d have been a far more rewarding listen.
Whereas Humanz was at times a disorienting mess of cascading sounds, The Now Now is a carefully-curated cosmic journey, lulling you on occasion into floating towards the synth-pop void. This works both in favour and in detriment to the record, leaving you at times in monochromatic bliss and at other times in melancholic disarray, and dare we say it, boredom. It takes only a handful of playthroughs to plough through the pile of might-have-missed-moments and hidden meanings, leaving The Now Now in the age of The Then Then.
In isolation, Gorillaz – or shall we say Albarn under the pseudonym of Gorillaz – have found themselves fluctuating through a creative stride of critical reflection, opening up the floor for a float through the cosmos of opinions. The Now Now, if its folky-funky-feely vibes can draw you in, will hold you in its champagne supernova-fuelled magic city for quite some time.