A deeply stylized critique of the celebrity culture that made Damon Albarn famous in the first place
The premise of the "virtual band" Gorillaz came to Albarn and his then-roommate, artist and Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett, as they sat in front of the television, tranquilized by MTV's parade of images. One guesses that the idea of make-believe band mates might have appealed to someone whose relationship with his actual band was growing strained. At the very least, this was an opportunity for Albarn, whose strong will had guided Blur through their crusades, to reset his image, or at least disappear behind a screen. A radical departure from the Blur aesthetic, Albarn, the only permanent Gorilla, chose producer Dan the Automator and rapper Del tha Funkee Homosapien for the "band's" 2001 debut. As such, Gorillaz sounds like an album-length amplification of the trio's previous collaboration, "Time Keeps on Slipping," from Del's visionary 2000 Deltron 3030 album. Albarn is only nominally the front man. He comes across as vague, inscrutable and unaffected, the spry Del appearing every now and then to riddle him with playful, exaggerated counterpunches. Automator's sense of humor permeates everything: The hummable "Clint Eastwood" is distant but never forlorn, the sampled horns of "Rock the House" call to mind a perverse TV quiz show and Albarn's slacker cheer on "19-2000" is matched by a cloyingly clunky, advert-ready keyboard jig. On the strength of Automator's hip-hop-as-pop vision and Hewlett's intricate, distinctive music videos, Gorillaz was wildly successful. Perhaps it worked so well because Albarn understood exactly what it was: a deeply stylized critique of the celebrity culture that had made him famous in the first place, with just enough cartoonish mystery to make it onto MTV.