A lot can be said about the trajectory of Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz, especially when it comes to the project’s recent output. “Plastic Beach” became a divise point for a significant number of critics and fans alike. Since then, Albarn has ventured into dubious, albeit intriguing endeavors such as “the world’s first iPad album”, melancholic pop odes to isolation, and heavy-handed socio-political commentaries.
These projects had varying degrees of success, but the end result is that along the way Gorillaz managed to attain the charming image of “the world’s best cartoon pop band” without the project becoming a parody of itself.
Their latest EP, appropriately entitled Meanwhile, came out of the blue only a couple of weeks ago. The EP consists of three songs, around three-minutes each, making up for a quick ride that is over before you even know it.
The three tracks have more than one thing in common. They all feature some of the UK's most vibrant stars. And although Jelani Blackman and AJ Tracey deliver a fine blend of UK rap on “Meanwhile” and “Jimmy Jimy”, it is dance-hall queen Alicai Harley who steals the spotlight with her soulful vocals on the refreshingly uplifting closer “Déjà Vu.”
That being said, Albarn’s vocals are also present on all three songs of Meanwhile. His trademark crooning comes up only sparingly, though, and like the case of most of Gorillaz’s best features, it feels like he is the guest artist of his own songs.
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The instrumentals are all infused with one of Damon’s biggest influences and sonic love interests - the reggae-ish, dubby sound supplemented with lonesome strings and keys in the background, as well as some staccato drum machine beats. All of this is drenched in a good amount of haunting synths that preside over the whole EP without becoming obtrusive even for a second.
If there is anything we can label as “Gorillaz’s signature”, it would be this mixture.
There isn’t much that is going to surprise you lyrically. Meanwhile covers themes such as the longing for yet another live event disrupted due to the pandemic, growing up hard in west London, and dancing, because… well, because it makes people happy. Yes, Meanwhile’s lyrics won’t make you dizzy with amazement, but honestly, how many people listen to Gorillaz because of the lyrics?
In short, the Meanwhile EP encapsulates everything people like about Gorillaz. It’s not the most inventive album, but it doesn’t have the pretensions to be one. It’s a charming, well-crafted celebration of the Gorillaz’s 20th anniversary and of music as a whole.