Damon Albarn — front man and mastermind of Britpop legend, Blur — is one of the great, underrated songwriters of this generation. Whether it’s pumping out snorting chart-toppers like “Song 2” and “Crazy Beat” or constructing lush pop landscapes like “Country Sad Ballad Man” and the guitar-driven “M.O.R.,” he never fails to capture the attention and praise of the public and the rabid but often accurate British print media. Albarn’s side project, Gorillaz, a troupe of completely surreal cartoon figures, is no exception. Combining his quirky pop sensibilities with an underground appetite, the pure style of Gorillaz is unmatched by any group, real or animated.After a nearly four-year hiatus, Albarn follows the pill-powered, press-acclaimed self-titled album with Demon Days — a collection of sporadic pop tracks and hip-hop/dancehall ballads. Albarn teams up with the Grey Album’s infamous DJ Danger Mouse as Danger’s bass-heavy signature is a fantastic addition to Albarn’s soft voice and pop mindset.Demon Days’ “Feel Good Inc.” is reminiscent of “Clint Eastwood” — the first single from their debut album. Instead of Del tha Funkee Homosapien’s whip-crack flows, Albarn recruits hip-hop legend De La Soul to add some lyrical spice. The track is significantly darker and jumpier than their previous chart topper, with the bass and percussion-driven groove interrupted by Albarn’s melodic croons before De La Soul’s hyena-like cackles blitz through.The album does have its share of underground MCs. MF Doom (“November Has Come”) and Roots Manuva (“All Alone”) both deliver standout performances. Doom’s unorthodox verses fit perfectly into the quirky environment, while Manuva’s appearance — his British, bass-heavy dancehall lines — stands as the most aggressive track on the album. These two back-to-back tracks create an ideal separation from the melodic pop on the rest of the album.Demon Days also harbors the oddest track Albarn will surely perform, “Fire Coming Out Of the Monkey’s Head.” It’s a spoken-word track performed by Dennis Hopper (“Speed”) about the mythical “happy folk” and how “strange folk” arrive and destroy the “spirit of the mountain called monkey.” Somehow, it all fits perfectly into the feel of the album.Albarn misfires several times on Demon Days. “White Light” is a watered-down dance track with Albarn’s muffled voice and an acoustic guitar diversion that is uninteresting and much too short.
Demon Days only has one true single, “Feel Good Inc.,” and lacks the power and media push that it needs to make the album a mainstream hit. Still, Albarn again flexes artistic muscles that he would be unable to use on more credible and “serious” albums. Demon Days will probably follow suit as another unappreciated release. Sure as hell shouldn’t stop you from listening though.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars