When Damon Albarn started hinting that a new Gorillaz album would be out by year’s end 2010 it was hard to know what to expect. Basically everything the man’s been involved with in his illustrious career has been gold, but two albums in a year? That’s a tall order. And a normal studio go wasn’t on the cards for the cartoon-wielding superstars, as Albarn recorded and edited the entire album on an iPad.
So when I started to hear radio DJs on top 40 stations talking about a new Gorillaz album coming out on Christmas I couldn’t help but laugh. It seemed rather obvious that The Fall wouldn’t be the entourage heavy, epic pop showcases that Demon Days and Plastic Beach came to be. And you were fooling yourself if you ever had your hopes that high. But the result, a modern day travel narrative, will remind listeners of past Gorillaz b-side collections along with Albarn’s other project The Good, The Bad, and the Queen.
The Fall is a great sort of coming down. Where last year’s Plastic Beach took the band’s popularity and live performance to a whole new level of excitement, this collection of tracks is like a big exhale after a long run. “Hillbilly Man,” one of the few tracks on the album with vocal accompaniment, starts out as a mellow acoustic piece, guided by Albarn’s soft voice. In one of the few twists on the album, the song explodes into a homogenized mix of compressed synth rhythms, booming bass lines and chopped-n-screwed style vocals loops. But this rather awkward mix is the closest you’ll get to what many would consider a “normal” Gorillaz track.
The rest of The Fall is composed of mostly slow-moving instrumental tracks. Albarn’s vocals have their place, but it’s few and, sadly, far between. There’s no Lou Reed, De La Soul, or Mos Def lurking in the liner notes. Instead you’ll hear local Texas-area newscasts, airport lobby banter, and some sort of crazy yodeler on the closing track.
It is certainly easier to complain about how different The Fall is from anything Gorillaz have released, but core fans will ultimately find a lot to like here. Tracks like “Amarillo” and “Aspen Forest” exemplify Albarn’s skill as a producer, not just as a singer or performer. And if you’ve found yourself digging into past b-side collections such as D-Sides or G-Sides, then there’s no doubt The Fall is for you. The strange, yet awfully satisfying, collection of tracks certainly won’t attract new listeners to the Gorillaz catalogue, but synth-infused pop tracks like “Revolving Door” or “Hillbilly Man” will appease most listeners.