After a slow-build up of hype throughout the year, Gorillaz have finally delivered. Clearing away months of speculation, the world’s favorite animated band have confirmed that yes, a new album is on the way. Titled Humanz and featuring a tracklist that includes everyone from Danny Brown to Grace Jones, it promises to be their most extravagant work yet.
And though we had already gotten a taste of the new record thanks to “Hallelujah Money,” released on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, we now have several choice cuts from the album. Last night the band dropped a VR music video that contained three new songs, including the truly masterful “Ascension” featuring Vince Staples, along with tracks titled “Andromeda” and “We’ve Got the Power.”
So to help whittle away the time until all of Humanz arrives, and to celebrate co-creator/band member Damon Albarn’s 50th birthday yesterday, we have decided to take a gander through the world’s preeminent animated band’s back catalogue. For this list, we have only tallied what they and their record label have ordained as the ‘official singles,’ which (not counting the batch of new ones just yet) includes both iconic classics and things we literally had not heard of until today. Why highlights from their previous work like “Empire Ants” are not among this grouping is a mystery for the ages.
And so here they are, every official Gorillaz single ranked worst to best:
The Fall, the last (and usually purposefully overlooked) album from Gorillaz is one elongated snooze-fest. Whether or not snooze-fests are capable of having a peak or climax is up for debate, but what is a fact is that the most snooziest-snooze of the snooze-fest of this album is the song “Amarillo.” The fact that a track like this one and not “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach” featuring Snoop Dogg is an official single is truly beyond comprehension.
Released as a standalone single in 2012, this one is a real oddity; and not in a good way. The vocal turn from featured guest Davey is, in so many words, terrible. And it effectively ruins the entire song as a whole. Speaking of terrible feature guest spots…
This had the potential to be something truly spectacular. Converse organized a meeting of the minds between Gorillaz, André 3000 and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy for some commercial no one can remember and said meeting produced the above song. Instead of being the perfect combination of some of the millennium’s most talented musicians it is a complete mess, and is a real blight on the resume of all three artists.
16. “Phoner to Arizona”
Ever wondered what it sounds like when Damon Albarn picks up the synthesizer out of boredom and creates a sequence of seemingly random notes? If you have found yourself drifting into thoughts like this one, look no further than the opening track to The Fall.
It is hard to believe that the debut Gorillaz album came out way back in 2001. Which may explain why a track like “19-2000” feels a little underdeveloped compared to some of the other singles this band would churn out a decade later. It’s not bad per se, just mildly annoying.
14. “Lil Dub Chefin” with Spacemonkey
Gorillaz made a whole collaborative album with Spacemonkey shortly after the launch of their debut, with this song acting as the sole single from the project. It is interesting, and displays a few interesting sonic qualities, such as a piano line that is most definitely an homage to The Clash. But bigger and better things awaited them.
13. “Revolving Doors”
Though it might not mean much, this is far and away the best track included amongst the otherwise maudlin The Fall. The latter half of the track pummels you into submission with a well-calibrated line of staccato synths, an element that is far more memorable than the melody itself.
12. “El Mañana”
It’s hard to pick an outlier in Demon Days, as it is one of only two Gorillaz albums to be a true front to back masterpiece. But judging by quality as a single, “El Mañana” is a seriously weak one. Still, a great song by some of the other standards on this list.
11. “Tomorrow Comes Today”
A clear spiritual sister to “Clint Eastwood” (a song that comes two spaces after it on their debut album), “Tomorrow Comes Today” succeeds in that it takes all of the sonic pieces of that former song and still manages to wring something new from it. It is a real brooding, elegiac moment in an album that otherwise plays its hand heavily.
10. “Superfast Jellyfish”
There are a lot of reasons why this song shouldn’t work. A chorus so catchy it could drive you insane! De La Soul singing about breakfast cereal! Strange cartoon voices! Yet there is an infectious amount of joy in this song; an amount that will have you pumping your fist in the air to how much fun it is to be a speedy jellyfish, or whatever the hell this song is about.
9. “Rock the House”
A true highlight from their debut album, “Rock the House” is a quintessential example of the core Gorillaz sound, one that has changed little, if at all, over time. Which is to say; it employs verbose yet rhythmically robust rapping, a beat that is both retro and futuristic (this one in particular clearly referencing an iconic game show theme), and a heavy, heavy dose of full-on weirdness.
8. “Kids With Guns”
Talk about a beat being murder. The slow yet inevitable lurch of this song is a melody in and of itself. Played out on both guitars and synthesizers at alternating points, the track tightly controls all of its elements and precisely weaves them together, evidenced even further by the subtle, driving backing vocals of “push it, push it real good” laced just under the lilting lead singer. Delicious.
7. “On Melancholy Hill”
True melancholy is an emotion that one often associates with bitter, cold anguish; a death of the heart so to speak. In that definition, “On Melancholy Hill” is anything but its eponymous feeling. This confectionary slice of new-wave pop bursts with warmth, a comforting energy that pervades every second. It is a track that exquisitely captures that sweet spot of nostalgia that is sad, yes, but ultimately overwhelmed by the feeling of gratitude that accompanies the memory of a life and love now gone, but not forgotten.
6. “Rhinestone Eyes”
For an example of the poetry inherent in Gorillaz songs, “Rhinestone Eyes” may have their Pulitzer-worthy entry. “Under sunshine pylons we’ll meet while rain is falling like rhinestones from the sky,” croons Albarn over an electronic beat that cuts and cleaves as fastidiously as a cuckoo clock. The nightmarish, technological dystopia of the ‘plastic beach’ that inspires this track’s album never sounds more appealing or strikingly beautiful than it does here.
It is genuinely upsetting that so many of the godfathers and godmothers of funk never had a chance to hear the superb, beatific wonder that is “DARE.” Each listen peels back the multitude of layers that envelop this seemingly simple song. From the squelching bass line to the chattering synth lines to the frequent touch-and-go fake-outs resulting in a beat-drop every 30 seconds to that massive, massive vocal hook, this track is a true home run.
This song is nothing short of an assault. The beat is astounding; few tracks could hope to come up with something as jagged-edged as these synthesizers. They practically serrate themselves into your brain. And no matter how many wails of agony you think you’ve heard in one sad pop song or another, nothing—and I mean nothing—comes close to the biblical lamentations of Bobby Womack going full scorched earth in his awe-inspiring guest spot.
3. “Clint Eastwood”
Here it is, the start of it all. Gorillaz shot into the musical stratosphere with “Clint Eastwood,” an ode to the icon of the Spaghetti Western that seamlessly presented their innovative package of alt-rock-rap-electro to the masses in radio-ready form. Lyrics such as having “sunshine in a bag” and the colossal weight of the “future coming on” are now canon in music of the 21st century, but each new listen sounds as fresh as the first; the mark of a true classic.
2. “Dirty Harry”
While “Clint Eastwood” may have directly referenced its namesake through the use of harmonicas pulled directly from the actor’s work in Western films of old, “Dirty Harry”‘s allusions to the star stop and end at the title. The track is a truly inspired sharp left-turn in the sonic palette of Gorillaz, pulling instead from melodies and instruments of traditional Chinese music (highlighted directly in the equally excellent “Chinese New Year” version included in a subsequent compilation).
The melody is deceptively simple, pulling your ear in with a phrase repeated both in instrumentation and the full choir enlisted to sing the backing track. And as with all their best songs, Gorillaz stitch a variety of global influences together without breaking a sweat, making the accompanying lines of rap sound as natural as the lute which precedes it.
1. “Feel Good Inc.”
There isn’t really any surprise that “Feel Good Inc.” is claiming the top spot. This is the crown jewel in the legacy of Gorillaz, their proverbial “Stairway to Heaven.” It represents everything they stand for as a band both musically and thematically.
The song finds harmony between two very different forces at play. On one hand, it employs instrumentation that mimics the factory work of its title and a set of raps as iconic as they are indistinguishable, making for a dark work of paranoiac funk. Yet this is cut with that chorus; a fragile, soaring line of psychedelic heartache from Albarn in a truly angelic vocal turn. In balancing between the two deftly, Gorillaz made one of the most memorable tracks of the new millennium.
‘Humanz’ is out on April 28. Be sure to read our exclusive interview with Gorillaz member 2D right here.
- Cover Image: Gorillaz