Just as cartoon bands often make better music than their real-life counterparts (see the Archies, Josie and the Pussycats, MC Skat Cat — well, not so much MC Skat Cat), British groups (see Radiohead and Blur) often craft better songs than their overseas neighbors. Add to the latter list Gorillaz, a collective that’s living — or animated, at least — proof of the aforementioned truth, though its members aren’t all from England and, technically, aren’t just cartoons.
As seen on TV, Gorillaz are alluring caricatures conceived by visionary cartoonist Jaime Hewlitt of Tank Girl fame. (Catch the group’s videos on Cartoon Network’s Toonami Midnight Run at 11 p.m. local time on Friday, August 31.) In the studio, Gorillaz combines the considerable talents of Blur’s Damon Albarn, Cibo Matto’s Miho Hatori, rapper Del Tha Funky Homosapien, former Talking Heads/current Tom Tom Clubbers Tina Weymoth and Chris Franz, and Buena Vista Social Club’s Ibrahim Ferrer, with the innovative Dan “The Automator” Nakamura handling production. Like some of today’s best British acts, Gorillaz tinkers with rock’s blueprint, dabbling in dub reggae, ska, trip-hop and punk. And like the famed cartoon bands, who operated without the pressure of recreating their tunes in concert, Gorillaz doesn’t confine itself to one sound or genre.
Gorillaz might be a side project for all of the artists involved, but tracks such as the first single, “Clint Eastwood,” with its loopy raps and looped vocal chorus, prove its album didn’t suffer from divided attention. Even so, Gorillaz speeds through genres faster than Pop Racer’s Mach 5, confronting and solving melodic mysteries along the way like the Scooby gang.