Even though their marketing campaigns and style seem to be aimed at 13 year old nerds, I have a deep and abiding love for Gorillaz, and any Danger Mouse produced project in general. I seem to like most Damon Albarn projects as well, so perhaps it’s this convergence that inspires such devotion. What I like most about Danger Mouse, and a small number of other artists (the Andre 3000 side of Outkast comes to mind), is the futuristic way that his music sounds by virtue of it’s complete disregard of genre and style barriers. Songs like “Ghost Train”, “Dare” or Gnarls Barkley’s “Run” and “Gone Daddy Gone” are uncategorizable. Their music is permeated with energy, the styles that they borrow from are many, and every time you listen to it, there’s something you notice for the first time.
The first thing I noticed about “Stylo” (featuring Mos Def and Bobby Womack) the first single (or at least the first released track) from their new album, Plastic Beach, is that it’s relatively downtempo. On the last two albums, the first singles were epic, frenetic songs (“Clint Eastwood” and “19-2000” from Gorillaz; “Feel Good, Inc.” and “D.A.R.E” from Demon Days), and while “Stylo” has a propulsive beat, it doesn’t command the same attention as those other singles.
The second thing that jumped out at me was that Damon Albarn is actually singing on the album. He seems to have abandoned the Garage Band megaphone distortion that was really effective on the Gorillaz albums, but is now becoming an Albarn cliche.
I was actually a little bored with the track, but that all changed when Bobby Womack started singing. There’s something about the soaring, powerful voice singing above an unchanging, metronomic beat that amplifies the drama of the vocal line, and also changes the beat into a subtle antagonist. It reminds me of both B.B. King’s sample in Primitive Radio Gods’ “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand” and the sample of the preacher in “Help Me, Somebody” from David Byrne and Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. In that moment, it captures the simultaneously despairing and joyful pathos that I’ve come to associate with Gorillaz.