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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Rhinestone Eyes

Well with certain Gorillaz writers gone, I guess somebody has to tell the band's saga right?
I have returned, but don't expect constant updates, there may be long gaps between entries as I have many other projects going on (such as my band Room 13, check us out on Soundcloud...)

www.soundcloud.com/user-room13 (I'll leave this here)

Right, on with the show....


"It's not from your world, it's from my world. It's a new language."
- David Bowie



"Rhinestone Eyes" is a very noticeable beginning on the "Plastic Beach" record. Despite it being track 3, it is the first time we are hearing Damon's "2D" voice fully on the album. This is unusual for a Gorillaz album at this point in their discography, as in the past 2D has usually opened the album himself. However, on this record, the record was opened by orchestras, brass, Snoop Dogg, a full band arrangement, it's all fleshed out...but 2D is forced unto the background where he is covered in "vocoders" and "synth voice" settings. On track 2, he's not there at all (vocally at least). So finally on track 3, we get the expected Gorillaz opening track; dark, gloomy and tone setting for what horrible things are to come.


Now, don't get me wrong, I love both the opening tracks on this record, but it certainly was an unexpected twist to not have 2D right there with us at the beginning of this tale. So, in a way, these tracks make a triad of openers for the album. Snoop welcomes us into the story with "Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach", Bashy & Kano set up the introduction to guests being kidnapped by Murdoc to be on the album in "White Flag", and on "Rhinestone Eyes', 2D sets up the horrible tale that is to come on this record. For you see, "Plastic Beach" is at it's heart, a rock opera told in abstract fragments, a lot of it's story on record is communicated through moods and instrumental motifs (we'll get to those later). Jamie's art was supposed to make more sense of it, but unfortunately they ran out of money so what could have been the band's most epic phase, turned out to be one of their low points commercially (more on this in my previous "Electric Shock" entry).



Before we get to the lyric analysis (or will we? I'll get to that...), we must tackle the instrumental. This is a kick ass beat, it's so powerful it doesn't even really need a vocal chorus (although we do get one through the use of recycled Gorillaz elements in the form of the vocals from lost Phase 3 song, "Electric Shock") all it needs is that bass drop when Gorillaz veterans Jason Cox and Gabriel Mauris Wallace come in with some tight bass guitar & drum work. Of course Damon's synth melodies are what really sell this song (albeit somewhat overbearing, the bass is barely heard over the walls of synths Damon piles on the track), however my personal favorite texture is the acoustic guitar Damon uses to serve as a gentle counterpart to the very mechanical feeling the song gives. Also the drum programming on this track is really good, I never got why people complain about Damon's drum programming on this record because while it is often minimal, it often suits the track it is being used on.



Now it's a good thing that there was such a long gap between entries for this one, because recently Damon Albarn unveiled something that I always sort of suspected about Gorillaz. You see, "The Now Now" was the first Gorillaz record in a long while where he actually finished his lyrics. Most Gorillaz tracks are often ad libbed on the mic and very few are actually thoroughly written out, which is what give most of them that abstract and often muddled and confusing tone. So, then why do a song analysis in the first place? Do the songs even mean anything? Well, yes, ya see I have a theory. I don't think he was doing this as often on self titled and "Demon Days", I think after "Demon Days", Damon began to see Gorillaz differently. He began to see Gorillaz as an opportunity to get many different artists all in one room and make cool new sounds under the auspicious umbrella given by Jamie's characters. So, once Gorillaz shifted into this new form, Damon began to spend more time in the band as a producer and arranger as opposed to a lyricist (although things would seemingly go back to the way they once were in Phase 5, but we'll get to that), so he would often only write out a couple phrases (like the chorus) and often just sing his first impressions and thoughts into the mic. This creates a very sort of abstract and impressionistic tone quite similar to what David Bowie was doing during his Berlin Trilogy era, (the "New Language"). It's not what Damon is saying, it's the way he's saying it. It's the feeling you're getting from not only the notes from the instrumental, but the notes he is singing as well.



"But that's not good enough, you lazy bastard", you say, "what is Damon saying?" Well, he's complaining about machinery pretty much. Yep, this is another "Damon Albarn complaining about technology in our society" song. He's saying that genuine human connection is kind of gone amongst all this technology, love has become fleeting like "rhinestones", the fakest of all jewlery, in "factories far away". He's also singing as 2D, describing the chaos that surrounds him, pirates attacking the beach ("helicopters fly over the beach, same time every day, same routine"), guests being kidnapped, him being forced into a basement where he is being abused physically and mentally. Not only that, but half of the band is seemingly nowhere to be found and one of them is replaced by some kind of cyborg monster, "Nature's corrupted in factories far away". Really, the song is just trying to communicate that this is the fucked up world Gorillaz are in now through some of it's lyrics, but mainly through it's dark and synthetic beat.


The song has become a live staple for the band, and like many of the tracks in Phase 3 I would say it takes it's best form through the live shows. The bass is up way higher in the mix, making the chorus drop even more ferocious then it is on the record and on later live versions, Jeff Wootton's electric guitar doubles the lead synth line during the drop adding more darkness to the song's tones. Damon sounds even more scared and afraid then he does on the record and during the "Escape To Plastic Beach Tour", a string section is added on to the drop which was probably originally on the record before the record company asked Damon to take off a lot of the string tracks on this record (yea EMI really fucked them over this phase, lest we forget that this song was originally gonna have an epic video that would have concluded the phase by reuniting Russel and Noodle with the band after an epic battle with the phase's villains WHO WE WILL GET TO IN ANOTHER ENTRY). You can find just about any Gorillaz fan pumping their fist and singing along with this drop wherever it is being played, both in person and on record. "Rhinestone Eyes" is a diamond in the rough amongst an album full of tracks that can be described in the same manner.




Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A quick note...

Sorry to say, I won't be coming back anytime soon, I have no more time as I'm busy finishing up school and making music of my own at www.soundcloud.com/user-room13

I just came to deliver a note of correction on the "Demon Days" entries, not all the drum and bass work are done by Morgon Nicholls and Cass Browne. According to the official YouTube topic page some of the bass and guitars are by the underrated Jason Cox and some of the drums are done by the even more underrated James Dring. So if you ever are truly wondering who did bass or drums, look em up on YouTube, if they are uncredited they are most likely being done by Morgon and Cass, respectively.

I guess this is a goodbye for now, take care of yourselves and maybe we'll meet again at some point
Sincerely,
Jack SS

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Blog is on hiatus

Been a busy time recently, so I'm gonna just kinda leave the blog inactive until I feel comfortable enough to resume it. If anyone wants to know my opinion on a certain song or anything similar to the matter, feel free to comment on this site and I'll give you my thoughts. However I am currently not in a well enough state of mind to have the ability to write a long essay about every song, despite my enjoyment of all of them.

Sorry everyone and bye for now,
Jack SS

Thursday, September 7, 2017

White Flag

White Flag
White Flag (Escape To Plastic Beach Tour, with Bashy & Kano)
White Flag (Africa Express live 2016, with Bashy)

"I went down to the studio... I spat on another track which they ended up changing and I didn't end up on... he got me into the studio again and me and Bashy come down and we heard the beat and he told me the concept of the album "Plastic Beach"... and we just got together and put some lyrics to it. He already had like a National Orchestra on it for, like, Arabic music... and it's come back to, you know, two MC's going back to back on it and it's really just a mad, diverse track and just a mad contrast between the music and the rapping on it."
- Kano

"(The intro to) "White Flag" was recorded in Beirut in March 2009... (I kidnapped Bashy and Kano) and dumped them on the beach and held a mic up to them and this is (what) they spit."
- Murdoc Niccals


"White Flag", the second track off of "Plastic Beach", is a joint track starring UK grime rappers Bashy and Kano. It remains to be one of the more underrated tracks in the band's catalogue of albums   and is a very good example of how Gorillaz are excellent at breaking down the genre barrier most musicians are afraid to cross.


Damon Albarn had worked with the two rappers before, having them both on several Africa Express gigs he was doing around 2008. However, Damon has always had the closer working relationship to the more famous rapper of the pair, Kano. The first of their many collaborations on record is the fist pumping London anthem "Feel Free", which ended up being so good that a lyric from Damon Albarn's chorus on it ended up becoming the title of the album it was made for, "London Town".


With the pair creating a wonderful single for one of Kano's records, it was obvious that the two wanted to work together again. So, when Damon Albarn was recording the album that eventually evolved into the third Gorillaz record, "Carousel", Damon invited Kano over to the studio to collar on a track. Like most of the guests who Damon invites to work on a track, Damon played Kano a series of instrumentals asking him to choose one to rap on. The track Kano recorded for "Carousel" remains unknown and the track might not have even made it on to the final product of "Plastic Beach". However, once the album became a Gorillaz project, Damon invited Kano and Bashy to 13 Studios to record on a track he made that he thought the duo would be perfect for.


The intro to the song was recorded in Beirut by the National Orchestra For Arabic Music. Just like with the album's in-house orchestra, sinfonia ViVA, Damon recorded an album's worth of material with them. However, the Middle Eastern elements of the album were soon abandoned in favor of more cinematic and electronic sounds making "White Flag" the only track to survive from these sessions. The intro is calm and relaxing with a driving percussion beat, only a band like Gorillaz would then have two grime rappers spit some rhymes over this.


The beat on this track is one of the best instrumentals on the album, the beat takes influence from many different areas of reggae (which is a genre that Damon seems to want to include at least one track of per Gorillaz album). The drum machine and synths Damon play suggest vague dancehall influences while the in and out bass playing of Paul Simonon fits in perfectly among some of the dubby bass lines Junior Dan played on the first record (he might have even original played on this track as Junior Dan once said that he was invited to play bass on a couple of "Plastic Beach" tracks but none of his recordings were ever utilized on the album). As the song gets more chaotic, the synths schizophrenically beep, bubble and buzz as if a contestant has chosen the wrong option on a game show and his penalty is a trial by fire. But what are Bashy and Kano talking about on this track?


Bashy and Kano felt uncomfortable about rapping on this track because of how complex and experimental the beat was. The two of them had never done something like this before, and on top of that, both Bashy and Kano had just caught a whiff of a nasty flu that was going around. But despite being sick, the duo deliver an awesome performance that ties into one go the album's ideas. In order to explain the amount of mainly guest anchored songs from the "Carousel" sessions that would appear on the third Gorillaz record, Jamie Hewlett came up with the concept of having the band's fictional bassist Murdoc Niccals send his cyborg duplicate of guitarist Noodle out to kidnap artists, so they could appear on the new Gorillaz record. So in "White Flag", Bashy and Kano rap about their first reactions to waking up on the strange colorful island located in the middle of nowhere known as Plastic Beach. Bashy is mainly confused ("I ain't lost and this ain't shipwrecked") and is in horror of all the garbage the island is made out of ("This ain't Atlantis, are you sure? I nearly suffocated when I touched the shore." "I don't wanna be left sleeping from all the diseases I am breathing"). But soon, Bashy bumps into his rapper friend Kano ("and up the road, you'll never guess who I saw"), and Kano thinks he just woke up after a wild night on the beach ("just found it Nemo", "VIP", "hi little day, sex on the beach, wanna try for a baby?"). However, once the two realize they have no escape they decide to remain calm and just go with the flow. Make peace with it, "White flag? white flag". Soon the dub infested beat merges with the Syrian orchestral intro forming a peace between genres of many different kinds. Maybe Gorillaz are, in a way, kinda like musical diplomats, using their songs as negotiation in order to make peace between different musical camps. It's all just one thing, ya know? It's all just music. The song ends with the band and their many guests (both captive and willing) just chilling out on Plastic Beach, "no war, no guns, no corps", at least for now...


On the "Escape To Plastic Beach Tour", the song featured an extended intro from the National Orchestra Of Arabic Music, who toured with the band just to play this one song. When it came top for Bashy and Kano to come out, the band went ape shit (pun intended) on the groove. Cass Browne and Gabriel Mauris Wallace pound on the song's tight beat adding a looser element to it, Paul Simonon plays the bass dutifully dubby just like on record, keyboardists Mike Smith and Jesse Hackett go wild on the buzzing synths and the Arabic orchestra even improvs on top of the rap section. Damon Albarn would spend the course of the song waving a giant white flag around the stage, taking a break from being the bandleader and just having a jolly, good time. The song was revived for future Africa Express shows where the electronic beat was stripped and featured many African rappers struttin' their stuff on top of an orchestral groove. Bashy even came out once to do with them (although Kano surprisingly never returned to the Africa Express shows to do it with him). It remains a mystery to me that the song has yet to be revived on the band's current "Humanz Tour" as Kano was there to freestyle on "Clint Eastwood" at the band's "Demon Dayz" festival in the UK, and Bashy made a cameo in the animated video for Phase 4 single, "Strobelite". If I were to make a guess, I would say that the band haven't played it with them because of the lack of Syrian musicians on the tour, which detracts a lot of weight from the song (but they have played pre-recorded loops of strings for some of the"Demon Days" tracks on the tour, so the true reason why they haven't played it, remains a mystery). Damon Albarn continues to have a great recording history with Kano, recording two more tracks with him for his grimey records, the melancholic "Deep Blues" and the driving "Bassment" (which was not only another Kano/Damon collar that managed to get a lyric from it as the title of Kano's then record, "Method To The Madness", but Kano often did a verse from the song on "Clint Eastwood" while on the "Escape To Plastic Beach Tour").


Now this song is one of the more disliked from the "Plastic Beach" record, and I think this is because the first Gorillaz album track (aside from "Rock The House") to not feature any Damon vocals on it. However, I think this is undeserved because while Damon's vocals are a huge part of the Gorillaz sound, the beat is clearly his work mainly with it's genre defying combination of hip hop, reggae and world music. "White Flag" is one of Gorillaz best tunes from this era and manages to do something that not a lot of Gorillaz tracks in the future, which is keep the idea that the track is still made by the animated characters without the usage of Damon's vocal presence as 2D.








Monday, September 4, 2017

Pirate's Progress/Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach

Orchestral Intro/Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach (special thanks to Reddit user Michelangelo_Jenkins once again for helping out by contributing the full unedited version of this piece to the blog)
Orchestral Intro/Welcome To The World Of Plastic Beach (Visual)
Pirate's Progress/Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach (Escape To Plastic Beach Tour)

Well, here we go, here is the intro to the flawed but brilliant concept album, "Plastic Beach", the first Gorillaz album to come out after what was supposed to be the group's farewell in 2006.  It's a great track that contains 2 parts and one of the few tracks that seemed to come to it's full realization in terms of production.

Let's get started, shall we?

Pirate's Progress


"I needed something other-worldly to open this record. This album's been a while in the making and this needed to be The Big Reveal."
- Murdoc Niccals


The album was meant to open with "Pirate's Progress", a four minute orchestral piece done completely by the album's in-house orchestra, sinfonia ViVA. It was a beautiful and soothing piece and would have been a subtle way to ring in the band's return (as Murdoc stated in the quote above).


At the tail end of the track, it included an orchestral version of the instrumental to the track "Pirate Jet". Now this is important to the album because "Pirate Jet" is the album's grand finale and part of the song's power is that it would have tied up the album using a part of what would have been the album's intro melody, making the two tracks bookends of sorts. Where as "Pirate's Progress" is relaxing, "Pirate Jet" is chaotic and unstable. However the record company forced Damon to fade the track down to under a minute and a half, leaving the intro to only be a shadow of what it was supposed to be. This decision is part of the reason why a lot of the fanbase don't understand the point of "Pirate Jet", but we'll get to that underrated piece of music later. 


"Pirate's Progress" would end up becoming a bonus track on the digital version of the record, and it's edited release as "Orchestral Intro" would end up contributing to the album's many flaws during a listen. When played live, it would be played in it's full glory as the intro to the show, often ending with Damon ringing one of his giant bells to stop the song (the giant bell would become another one of his instrumental obsessions during Phase 3, along with the vocoder and weird synthesizers like the "horn" preset on his omnichord and, of course, the doncamatic).



Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach



"This is a proper soundtrack: brass-laden, pimped out, plastic funk, mixing the organic with the plastic to form something new and shiny."
- Murdoc Niccals


Transitioning from the intro, is the sound of a brass band revving up. This brass band is Chicago's Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, who act as the album's in-house brass band (another drawback to the label's rush of the production, some of these guy's features on the record never made it to the final stage). Soon Damon Albarn lays down a simple drum machine loop, while cinematic synthesizers sustain throughout the record filtered in all sorts of effects such as "wah wah" and the journey begins.


A voice reveals himself as the sort of narrator (or guide) of this track and that is rapper Snoop Dogg, who drops his name along with the Gorillaz name (accompanying the names with a reference to another simian themed project, "Planet Of The Apes"). Underneath him and the synths is an awesome bass riff which is later joined by a funked out drum riff revealing to us this album's tragically under utilized rhythm section (again, the label): bassist Paul Simonon of The Clash and Damon's own The Good, The Bad And The Queen; and soon to be Gorillaz veteran, drummer Gabriel Mauris Wallace. Soon Damon's synths mimic Paul's breathtaking bass riff and the song is a blaze, becoming one of the funkiest joints Gorillaz had ever put out to date.


Now Snoop Dogg doesn't exactly have a perfect record when it comes to his releases. Don't get me wrong, the guy has made some very good albums, but a few looks at some of his more recent stuff (both musically and in other media) will leave you holding your nose. However, Snoop Dogg really delivers on this track making it one of his best performances of the 21st century. His lines are always followed by Damon Albarn smoothly delivering vocoded 2D soul vocals, "oooooooohhhh, just like that, yea" making for a perfect storm of electronic G-funk smarmy Snoop Dogg has the exact sort of skill set for.


After about a minute of the band just jamming out to that superb instrumental, Snoop delivers his first line, "The revolution will be televised". It acts as a sad response to Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", the world is no longer fighting the media and powers that be, it instead revels in the artificial things we have all around. It's a sad reality, he compares the world to "Wonderland" saying that all the artificial plasticity is a curious thing to him. However despite his optimism and relaxed tone, he encourages you to fight like Mr. Scott-Heron once did, "swim with the sharks", "turn the wheels up, real tough". While you do that, he will revel in this artificial world of Plastic Beach, Point Nemo he was taken to, "drinkin' lemonade in the shade, getting blazed with the gang of pilgrims. Yea, just like that"("pilgrims" meaning the ones who discovered the land, so in other words he's getting high with 2D and Murdoc, who discovered the beach and took all the album's guests to it).


Now why is Snoop telling you to fight even though he is clearly enjoying the superficiality of it all, cause as he says he's a complicated guy, "like math". I mean, are we really gonna expect Snoop Dogg, the man who has advertised pretty much every project known to man and has guest starred on many different manufactured TV shows, to tell us to fight the system and the corporations that run it? No because he lives off of that stuff, but that doesn't mean he sees all that's wrong with it. In a way, maybe he's gaming the system, or maybe I'm just overthinking all of this and Snoop Dogg just got really high and spit these lines on the track, who knows. Soon Snoop Dogg delivers a somewhat off putting reverb laden cackle as the beat comes back in full force, joined by frantic synthesizers and a electric guitar line (also played by Damon using a slide) that's constantly ascending in pitch until it becomes an almost ear piercing siren type sound. As the track fades out, Snoop says "welcome to the world of the Plastic Beach" which not only welcomes us to the album's fictional journey through the Gorillaz new HQ but says how in the age we live in with all that is around us being superficial, the whole world is kind of like a plastic beach in a way. Life imitates art, kinda eery, don't ya think?


The duo of songs was used to open to "Escape To Plastic Beach Tour", where the song's funk groove was expanded upon with the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble doubling Paul Simonon's bass and Damon Albarn adding in some smooth "wah wah" soaked clavinet lines. Cass Browne doubles Gabriel Mauris Wallace's drumming making the song more intense in certain parts (especially during the outro where the menacing guitar comes in). What's weird about the live shows however is that despite Snoop Dogg being there to guest on a mashup of the band's"Clint Eastwood" and his own "Drop It Like It's Hot" at certain points during the band's tour, he never came out to do this song with them (I mean they were able to get him to shoot a video for it, so why wouldn't he play it live with them? It remains a mystery.) Production wise (excluding the orchestral intro), "Welcome To The World" is one of the few tracks that perfectly combines the organic and electronic instrumentation without stripping too much of the organic elements out of the final mix. It remains to be a powerful opener for the record and one of the best tracks from this era of the band's work.









Friday, September 1, 2017

Electric Shock

Electric Shock (Part 1)
Electric Shock (Part 2)
Electric Shock (Africa Express live, 2008)

"Gorillaz had peaked. They threatened not to make another album after "Demon Days" , and anyhow they're such an expensive act to run, if we kill 'em off now, we've sealed their place in rock history forever. They've sold millions upon millions of records, won every award: there's nowhere left to go, right? Let's make 'em go out on a high, that way like all great icons before them... Gorillaz place would become frozen, captured for all time in the untouchable landscape of pop history."
- Cass Browne

Damon and Jamie were done with the characters, Jamie was "so fucking bored" of drawing them and Damon felt artistically they couldn't top the "Demon Days" album. They were supposed to make a movie to end the Gorillaz story, but due to more studio tampering (this time by The Weinstein Company), yet again, the Gorillaz movie got cancelled. So Jamie ended the story by making it seem like Noodle was trapped in Kong Studios' gateway to hell, and not dead after the "El MaƱana" video (the movie probably would have revived her). However, Damon and Jamie wanted to continue doing projects together...

"I think the idea... is that it's like how The Who presented their (rock operas)- "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" and so on. Those were presented by "The Who" even though none of their members were actually in the movies... it's the same people working on it, that's the principle."
- Jamie Hewlett

In 2007, the duo debuted their Chinese opera project "Monkey: Journey To The West", an Asian folk legend that would be fused with Jamie's crude artistry and Damon's electronic-rock score. It was a brilliant piece of work that I was lucky to be able to see when it came to New York in 2012. However, Damon revealed that they originally planned to release the project under the "Gorillaz" moniker. The idea would be carried on that the cartoons would stop presenting themselves and just become the people behind the projects, as much as Damon and Jamie were behind them, further blurring the line between them and the reality around us. That same year, the duo started work on a concept record called "Carousel" which would be an orchestral art rock record about "the mystical aspects of Britain". It would feature numerous guests on it and would also explore elements of electronic, brass band joints and Arabic music. However when the duo went to a show by a Gorillaz tribute group fronted by voice of drummer Russel and longtime musical partner, Remi Kabaka, called Gorillaz Soundsystem. Damon and Jamie began to realize how much people missed their characters and decided to hastily re-work the record into a Gorillaz project. What happened next would be the start of the band's fall from grace...

"(There doesn't need to be a film) cause it's gonna be in everybody's heads"
- Jamie Hewlett

The record would now be called "Plastic Beach" and would focus more on environmental themes as well as a new storyline for the characters. Bassist Murdoc Niccals, on the run from the Boogeyman who has come to collect his soul, moves to a gigantic floating piece of plastic in the middle of nowhere and call it his home. He would kidnap singer 2D as well as other guest singers to appear on the record and make a cyborg replicant of guitarist Noodle (thinking she was still trapped in hell) using her DNA. It would finally put the Gorillaz film idea to rest, making a span of concept records to tell the essential Gorillaz story, this one being the first. It would have a major world tour, an updated video game, a book series, a follow-up record that would be about what happened to drummer Russel and Noodle. It could have been the band's artistic triumph to one up "Demon Days". However the record became a compromised project that would end with both Damon and Jamie going their separate ways for several years. Jamie's visual department would spend their entire budget before most (if any) of the above things could go into effect leaving us only with a series of music videos and many things that ended up going nowhere. Furthermore, the record company, EMI, rushed the band to release the project as the music industry was experiencing it's first slump that still affects the business to this day. This caused Damon to strip a lot of the orchestration and organic instrumentation off certain songs so that the album would be able to flow as one with the poppier electronic pieces that appear on the record. When he asked if he could make the album a "double record" with the second disc being some of the songs the band cut with various orchestras, the record company denied him. Thus the finished project we got in 2010 is a shadow of what it could have been, with certain orchestral sections of songs being shortened or removed completely, and some songs being unfinished versions that are forced to be faded out or be lacking in any other instrumentation other than synthesizers and drum machines. The album didn't sell well and divided the fanbase upon it's release (although it reign in a new generation of fans later on after it's release). Whether or not you like it is another discussion, the matter of facts is that "Plastic Beach" was a rushed failure which turned out to be something neither Damon or Jamie hoped it would be.

""Electric Shock" is dope"
- Mos Def

Now that's enough of a lead in, let's get down to business. Do I think "Plastic Beach" is a bad record? No, in fact, I think it's a great record that stands the test of time. I just see that this record (along with the phase) was not as great as it could have been, therefore it's not a "perfect" record in the same way the first two records were (and still are).

 To start off the analysis of this phase, we will be looking at the unreleased track, "Electric Shock". "Electric Shock" was premiered on BBC radio along with two unfinished demos two months before the album's release by Murdoc and the track would go on to be a huge presence in the band's works despite it not making on to the album.


 The first version released of the song begins with an orchestral lead-in by in-house orchestra for the album, sinfonia ViVA. It reminds me a lot of the instrumentals from musical "West Side Story", and given how this album was originally supposed to be an orchestral concept record, I bet Damon took a lot of inspiraton from his old "original cast recording" musical vinyls he had in his collection. The intro would eventually be released under the name "Three Hearts, Seven Seas, Twelve Moons", an orchestral piece that would make it as a bonus track on the digital version of the "Plastic Beach" record.


The song would eventually transition into an organ giving us huge carnival type sounds and melodies, suggesting old pier and fairground imagery, which is what Damon was originally going for on Britain. Soon after the song goes into a schizophrenic drum machine pattern as Haruka Karouda, voice of Noodle, starts chanting "THAT'S ELECTRIC SHOCK!" This chant would eventually be used as a sort of chorus on the "Plastic Beach" single, "Rhinestone Eyes". The song then suddenly ends after building up into a chaotic and random sorta synth haze.


The second part of the song would eventually be released in 2014 mix Damon made for FACT magazine. This section starts with a wind haze which transitions into a chiller drum machine loop as a synth riff takes the main melody of the song. Soon, the album's in-house brass band, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, start to double the synth riff as vocoded voices (the vocoder will be a recurring instrument in this phase) chant "electric shock" in the background. If the synth riff sounds familiar, it's because it was eventually re-worked into a later song from Phase 4, "Strobelite". The song soon dissolves into another wind type haze and ends before a second minute can hit the track. I think the two parts were meant to be put together on the final record but probably never came to be due to the pressure put on Damon to release the record.


Now this is all well and good, but what does the track mean? Well given the visuals Jamie paired the song's intro with and the intro's new title, I think this song would have been an exploration of the Boogeyman character whose voice actor, rapper Mos Def, was slated to appear on this track along with rap trio and Gorillaz veterans De La Soul. The Boogeyman would show up multiple times on the record each time conveying his evil intentions, he's the villain of the phase and his lack of further development was another casualty lost in this phase.


Given the fact that Damon incorporated many elements of this track into later songs and the fact that he performed this track live with Africa Express in 2008, the same year that he probably recorded it, Damon probably had a fondness for this track. Had it not been for the interferences the record label forced upon the artistic duo, this track (along with a handful of others) probably would have made it on to the record. Instead, it will be an unfinished piece that will most likely never see the light of day in it's full glory with it's verses by Mos Def's Boogeyman and De La Soul. "Electric Shock" is a track whose presence can't be ignored in the Gorillaz canon and will most likely have other elements from it incorporated into other tracks in the future.









Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Soldier Boy

Snakes And Ladders ("Soldier Boy" demo, snippet)
Soldier Boy

"Who put the chemicals in the food chain?"
- Intro to "Demon Days"


At the end of 2006 it was announced that Gorillaz were done, the project had run it's course. But then two years later to the surprise of everyone, we had a new Gorillaz track in a way. Yes, as a b-side to the 2008 Danger Mouse produced single "Poison" off of Martina Topley-Bird's then album, "The Blue Gold", a track called "Soldier Boy" was used which featured rapper Roots Manuva and our beloved cartoon heroes.


The track comes from an unused demo from the "We Are Happy Landfill" sessions for the "Demon Days" album (see "RockIt" entry for more details) called "Snakes And Ladders". The demo featured Roots Manuva rapping on top of what was a very heavy punk rock type beat with bratty Graham Coxon esque guitars and noisy synths supplied by Damon Albarn, bass by Morgon Nicholls and a combo of Cass Browne's drums and Danger Mouse's drum machine. Danger Mouse probably decided to re-make this track with Martina while making her new album due to the fact that the group of artists had all worked together on the "Demon Days" album track, "All Alone" to successful results. However, this song deserved way better than the release and production it got, because Danger Mouse stripped the track of the brilliant rhythm section of Morgon Nicholls and Cass Browne, leaving only his own drum machine and no bass. Also from the little snippet of "Snakes And Ladders" that was generously given to us from the documentary, "Bananaz", it seems that Danger Mouse cut out all of Damon Albarn's vocals which appeared to include multiple verses and a chorus chant of "SNAKES AND LADDERS! SNAKES AND LADDERS!" As for the way it was released, well I'll get to that in a bit...


"Soldier Boy" starts with a bunch of synth noise and a repetitive synth line which seems to be a substitute for what would normally be a bass line (albeit a poor one). As Martina's soulful vocals come in so does two hard hitting electric guitar riffs. The contrast between Martina's smooth voice and the harsh riff Damon plays is brilliant and Martina delivers her A game on the track. I'm not quite sure what Martina is saying in her verses but maybe she's acting as some sort of sergeant to a literal "soldier boy" at war, tying into the anti-war themes of "Demon Days". Her soulful voice glorifies the orders she's giving in a similar way to how American media and even politics do in real life, but the harsh guitars convey the truth in the matter. The "soldier boy" is at risk, but why does that matter, kill soldier boy kill! "Soldier boy, eyes open. You know what to do".


Now Roots Manuva's verse (doubled by Martina Topley-Bird's vocals which seem to echo his lines), the only vocals left from the original version of this song, obviously provided a major turning point in the "Demon Days" sessions. He seems to be singing from the perspective of the "soldier boy" as opposed to the sergeant that Martina played. He talks about taking chances by "rolling dies", he's "looking for" his "lady" home he misses back at home, all he has here is "Lady Luck". The fact is that despite how the media makes out soldiers who return to home as strong manly heroes, some never come back and die in the battle. By going to war, you are taking a major risk of never coming back to those you love. And especially at the time when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were entirely pointless and fueled by greed, it must have been a harsh reality these soldiers faced to be away for that long, not knowing whether they would survive to the end of each day. He's "screwed" in each "step", and he doesn't know who to "blame". And then he says a key line, "Who put the chemicals in the food chain?" Now does that line sound familiar? Because, that's the line repeated throughout the entirety of the intro to the "Demon Days" album. Which is why it astounds me that this brilliant track didn't end up on the "Demon Days" record (I personally would have traded "DARE" to get "Snakes And Ladders" in it's place) and instead ended up being tossed away in a butchered form as a b-side.


 Now does all this mean that I don't like "Soldier Boy"? No, I actually think the song is astounding and a great fusion of soul, rap and punk rock, I just think it's a shadow of what it could have been. "Soldier Boy" is an amazing track which by itself deserved to be more than a b-side, but imagine it with vocals from Damon and with a rocking rhythm section of bass guitar and drums on it? "Soldier Boy" marks the true end of Phase 2, being what many thought for a while would be the last track we would ever hear from the band.


End Of Phase 2