When a musician admits that an album was recorded during one’s spare time, in which he would otherwise be “just spend staring at walls,” that’s not exactly a good sign. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that Gorillaz – The Fall isn’t the band’s greatest release (or anywhere close). Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn noted that The Fall was recorded in just 32 days, and that should come as no surprise to listeners.
The apparent goal of The Fall (download here) was to act as a musical diary of a cross-country road trip, and if by that Albarn meant that he wanted to give you the sense you were trapped amid something that seems interminable, then well done. While Gorillaz has produced hits in the past, all sense of catchy, enjoyable music was scrubbed from The Fall.
The initial track, “Phoner To Arizona,” serves as a good introduction to the rest of The Fall, as it chugs along with electronic blips and synths that seem to be building to a conclusion but never quite get anywhere. “Revolving Doors” offers gently picked guitars juxtaposed against throbbing synths, and the song is likely the best on the album, if not overly impressive. “HillBilly Man” features more guitar, and it’s smoother this time around, thanks to the fact that former Clash guitarist Mick Jones is doing the picking, which leaves Albarn to concentrate on mopey vocals; this one seems to work because Albarn is actually better when he resists the urge to multitask.
“Detroit” misses the mark completely, conveying no sense of the Motor City, unless you experienced it while on a mix of ecstasy, shrooms and Charlie Sheen. “Shy-Town,” a tribute to Chicago, has a solid, Ratatat-tinged trip-hop feel, but again, doesn’t give off a sense of the city, and Albarn’s strained falsetto makes Neil Young’s look like an opera singer.
“Little Pink Plastic Bags” is trippy but somehow bland, while “The Joplin Spider” offers a rare mix of sounds apparently including a dying computer and a chainsaw, making it more painful to listen to than anything. “The Parish Of Space Dust” suffers from the same fate of the first one, as it seems to have potential but ultimately only goes in circles, abetted by recorded radio banter. “The Snake in Dallas” is another tribute to studio effects and whining synths, which makes “Amarillo” all the better. This track actually gives off the sense of enormity and space you’d feel while traveling through Texas, instead of the feel you’d get traveling through a stuffy, sweaty club.
“The Speak It Mountains” is rather bland, which makes the Super Nintendo strains of “Aspen Forest” a bit more tolerable. Bobby Womack drops in for “Bobby in Phoenix,” a well-crafted, acoustic guitar-driven track that breathes some much-needed life into this album.
“California and the Slipping of the Sun” finds Albarn slipping back into the combination of recording a radio and random electronic noises, which, while overdone, is one of the more interesting elements on this album. “Seattle Yodel” may be your favorite track simply because it is the final track, although it consists of repeated, annoying yodeling, which just makes you wish the album ended more quickly.
The Fall comes about as close to falling completely on its face as an album can come, although the well-placed guests manage to propel some of the tracks above the annoying drone of mediocrity. Unless you’re a die-hard Gorillaz fan, it’s difficult to imagine the need to rush out to the record store and pick this up. Of course, you’ll likely find that there are plenty of shining The Fall reviews, which indicates that Albarn’s apparent strategy of repeatedly pushing out material while Gorillaz is still hot is paying off.