Even after the success of their self-titled debut album, Gorillaz was viewed by some as nothing more than a gimmick masterminded by a relic of a 90s band who desperately wanted to matter again. But-ex-Blur frontman Damon Albarn proved that he meant business with the band’s second album – Demon Days.
While Gorillaz engaged in a process of building its own world to play in, Demon Days was far more grounded in the world that would listen to it. It was the first album of the post-9/11 era to grip the paranoia and uncertainty of the modern world tightly with both hands.
Each track is fitted around a particular dilemma or insecurity of 21st century life: ‘O’ Green World’ is about the environment, while ‘Feel Good Inc.’ centres around capitalism’s dark side. The genuinely emotional ‘El Mañana’ worked with its video as a metaphor for the plight of children stuck in the middle of wars. Fuelled largely by Albarn’s own worldview, much of the album is a brooding criticism of the way that our world has turned out.
But political meaningfulness alone was not the secret behind Demon Days’ success. What it gave the world was an electrifying mix of hip-hop, Britpop and alternative rock that intrigued and excited in equal measure. Combined with artist Jamie Hewlett’s incredible illustrations and animation, Demon Days was a piece of art unlike anything we had seen before.
It was so diverse. Collaborators included De La Soul, Shaun Ryder, Danger Mouse and the San Fernando Valley Youth Chorus (for the incredibly catchy ‘Dirty Harry’). It even featured two appearances from the London Community Gospel Choir, who end the album in a way which fits the bill against all expectations. Their heavenly voices round off everything that had come before it, in a melancholic and moving way.
There is a reason I adored this album as a child. It was a treasure chest of amazing talent and ideas which, when unlocked, revealed a wealth of incredible music and sounds which stayed with me for years. When I rediscovered the album, it finally clicked in my head: more than ever, we need to be talking about Demon Days.
Why? Two reasons. First, as reflective and meaningful as it was in 2005, the themes and issues raised in Demon Days carry an even greater weight now. Second, since Gorillaz are gearing up for their first new album in seven years, it seems only right to commemorate the album that cemented their place in musical history.
Everything that has happened in the last 12 years has made the importance of the album grow significantly. It was laden with a commentary about the modern world and its challenges. None of those challenges have gone away. Climate change, prejudice and war remain rooted into and around politics, society and everyday behaviour. Demon Days tackles these issues in a way buzzing with creativity and style.
And after a hiatus that has felt like a lifetime for the band’s fans, they are back. They have been teasing the possibility of a return for several years now, which, for die-hard fans, fell just short of torture.
They came back quietly in January with the online release of ‘Hallelujah Money’, a strongly anti-Trump collaboration with Benjamin Clememtine. It was the band’s first release of new material in six years, and the ghostly silhouette of 2D in the background of the video confirms what we all wanted to know: Gorillaz have returned.
And just in the past week, they have conquered the internet, confirming that their new album Humanz is set for an April 28 release date. Almost overnight they overwhelmed the internet by releasing four new songs, two music videos and a track listing for the album. Rag ’n’ Bone Man is among the collaborators for the bonus tracks.
They are also holding the Demon Dayz Festival at Margate Dreamland, more than intent on declaring to the world that they have returned. And, if the images released for that concert are anything to go by, Hewlett has been busy giving them a new look.
Combine that with the re-release of Demon Days on a beautiful 12” red vinyl, and you realise just how important Demon Days is. This energising genre-bending experiment redefined my musical tastes and encourages deep critical thought amidst its synthesisers and infectious guitar riffs.
Gorillaz are a triumph of 21st century music. Finding Demon Days again after so many years made me realise how much I missed Gorillaz, and how ecstatic I am to have them back.
Image Credit: James Heward, Pomona