Ten years after its conception, Gorillaz has gone from a side project for Blur’s Damon Albarn to a full-fledged entity. The latest in the band’s series of secondary releases, The Fall was famously recorded entirely on Albarn’s iPad during a recent tour. Originally released as a free(ish) download from the band’s website, The Fall receives its physical release now months later, perhaps making it the first CD to be printed ironically.
Comprised mostly of short, quiet compositions, The Fall may initially be unrecognizable to casual fans. While “Hillbilly Man” could probably be retooled into a hit for Justin Timberlake, there’s little of the dark-but-catchy dance fare that characterizes Gorillaz’s most popular singles. Instead, spacey art projects like “Little Plastic Bags” quietly wander by before blending into the next track. There are times when a good idea fails to reach its potential due to the self-imposed restriction of the iPad, but those issues might have gone unnoticed had Albarn not been so open about how the music was made.
Albarn pulls from a unique bag of tricks even while keeping things simple, most notably on “Bobby in Phoenix,” where recent collaborator Bobby Womack’s passionate vocals are combined with a prominent acoustic guitar and short list of synthesized instruments to create a sort of new-wave blues. Albarn’s clever implementation of Womack’s vocals late in the song inspires repeat listening, showing the soul legend in a new environment that still feels natural.
While it is impressive how much Albarn squeezes out of a piece of equipment that most would assume isn’t up for the task, this is ultimately a tour-bus album—several songs are even named after the cities in which they were likely conceived. The standout cuts are sandwiched in between pleasant but unfulfilling material like “Detroit” and “Shytown” that feel a little hollow and solitary. There’s a metaphor to be found there, but it’s hard to tell if that was intentional.
While not the album’s purpose, The Fall is a great Apple commercial at the very least. Bedroom wizards everywhere should be inspired by what Albarn manages to do here and it’s a testament both to the artist and his tools that he was able to create
such a project on what’s basically a big cellphone. With that said, we’ve seen what Gorillaz can be with more options so this album will always have an asterisk (or at least until Albarn releases a vinyl LP crafted on a Nintendo DS).