Feel Good Forever: The Best of Gorillaz
The idea of a "virtual band" is nothing new. In the early days of rock and roll, real musicians were represented by cartoons, like Alvin and The Chipmunks or The Archies, and they sold tons of records to young listeners. Then in 2000, Blur frontman Damon Albarn flipped the concept on its head with one of his longest-lasting musical endeavors, Gorillaz.
Working alongside writer/illustrator Jamie Hewlett, Albarn constructed a deep lore for the "players" in Gorillaz: singer/keyboardist 2-D, bassist Murdoc Niccals, guitarist Noodle and drummer Russel Hobbs all had distinctive looks, personalities and backstories. (They even have their own share of drama: Hobbs and Noodle were at one point replaced by a drum machine and a cyborg, respectively, and Murdoc was briefly put in jail, during which Ace - a minor character from children's cartoon The Powerpuff Girls - replaced him.) But whether you're a Gorillaz fan for the lore or the tunes - defty created by Albarn with a rotating cast of backing musicians and guests - there's no questioning how real this virtual band can be. Here's a few of our favorites of theirs to introduce you to their sound.
"Clint Eastwood" (2001): Gorillaz' debut single initially sounds of a piece with Albarn's earlier work in Blur: a lazy rhythmic chorus augmented by piano, guitar and Albarn's laconic vocals as 2-D. Then things take a left turn with the verses of rapper Del the Funkee Homosapien - the first hint of the group's deft blend of rock and hip-hop.
READ MORE: Gorillaz Prep Deluxe Edition of Debut Album
"Feel Good Inc." (2005): after their self-titled debut, Gorillaz wouldn't reconvene for four years - but when they did, it was bigger than anything they'd done before. The Danger Mouse-produced Demon Days was kicked off with the monster jam "Feel Good Inc.," a cosmic gumbo of anti-conformist rhymes, dreamy alternative hooks and rapid-fire rhymes (and haunting laughter) by hip-hop legends De La Soul. "Feel Good Inc." became the band's biggest chart hit in America and earned a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year.
"On Melancholy Hill" (2010): The third Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach, combined a sweeping environmentalist narrative with a head-spinning list of guest performers including Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Lou Reed, Mark E. Smith of The Fall and The Clash's Mick Jones and Paul Simonon (who ended up touring with Albarn in support of the album). But the album's most enduring song, "On Melancholy Hill," was a wistful slice of electro-pop without any big-name collaborators - just Albarn and his vibes.
"She's My Collar" (2017): After another lengthy hiatus, Albarn and Hewlett reactivated Gorillaz for the R&B-inspired Humanz. Initially conceived as an "emotional response" to the U.S. presidential election before the race was even run, the record blended awareness with escapism, most popularly on "She's My Collar." Though never released as a single, the peppy track, featuring a guest bridge by singer Kali Uchis, remains a fan favorite.
"Humility" (2018): The Now Now, a quickly-recorded follow-up to Humanz, featured one of the group's best singles: "Humility," a confident jam featuring the distinctive licks of jazz guitarist George Benson. Hilariously, the song's live-action/animated video features comedian Jack Black miming along with Benson's notes.
"Pac-Man" (2020): Gorillaz spent most of 2020 in lockdown like the rest of us, putting the finishing touches on their ongoing audiovisual series Song Machine. The tune "Pac-Man," featuring a raucous rap verse from ScHoolboy Q, sort of sums up the Gorillaz sonic experience in a nutshell - and also, in a way, got Albarn to acknowledge one of the funniest Gorillaz parodies on Twitter, involving the mysterious "Flimsy Steve."