Gorillaz’s self-titled debut, as fantastic and stylistic as it was, felt like something of a fluke. The aesthetic of an album by a virtual band arrived right in the heart of the peer-to-peer streaming age of Napster and Kazaa, where the downloading of its music videos — perhaps moreso than the music itself — was more cool to do than telling your friends to wait for their appearances on MTV or the radio. Its characters were instantly recognizable for harnessing chaos instead of acting upon it, acting as witnesses to a world that was headed for war and bound to explode into a social media frenzy a few years down the road.
But how long could that really last? Artist Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn birthed a fun idea in the major slowdown period of Blur, and that’s about all the impact it had at the time — a fun side-project melding hip-hop/pop with an artistic story. Four years later, though, they followed it up with Demon Days and brought the project into a newer and heightened perspective. Call it a “matured” version of their self-titled, Demon Days set the course for a band who is sonically ahead of the curve and one with a taste for dark satire.
Gorillaz albums have shown a progression of the origin story of 2D, Murdoc, Russell, and Noodle, but ever since the release of Demon Days, the story has become more or less a front for tounge-in-cheek commentary on the impending doom the world purports. The characters aren’t here to save the day, but moreso to ingest the idea that they have the information that could help you do it, and while 2010’s Plastic Beach and The Fall are records that are probably too on-the-nose with their messages about societal decay, Demon Days provides something a lot more tangible and symbiotic, leading to a far more engaging and lasting listen.
Released in the wake of the invasion of Iraq and the re-election of George Bush, Demon Days has a feeling of the era. It features a subtle sense of dread, only offset by the infiltrative grooves of Murdoc’s bass, the sharp edges of Noodle’s synths, and the fat beats of Russell’s drumming. It starts and ends on dramatic and powerful highs, as any story should, unfurling with bangers like “Feel Good Inc.,” while “All Alone” and “Dare” in its middle push the album along like a well-oiled machine. It shines in these moments, but its highlights are the lines in-between, such as “Kids With Guns,” “El Mañana,” or “White Light,” whose instrumental variance from dracula-esque hip hop, to disquieting balladry, to coked-out post punk gives the album an added sense of absurdity that brings the virtual band into our reality. The guest appearances of De La Soul, MF Doom and Nenah Cherry also have a down-to-earth poignancy.
Historically speaking, Demon Days is an essential part of Gorillaz’ discography. It shut up anyone who believed the project was bound for a one-off record, and has managed to age the best out of their records. With the release of HUMANZ today, Vinyl Me, Please has properly timed this release to get people back into Gorillaz-mode and remind us that the virtual band very much has the presence of a real one, continuing as trendsetters in a world that has and hasn’t changed.
I don’t have the original pressing to compare, and I’m assuming most people don’t (hence the amount of praise for this being reissued), but having gone through two generations of this record via download and CD-quality issues, this is the best Demon Days has ever sounded. The record was reportedly remastered at half-speed at Alchemy in the UK, and it shows. Every track thumps — hard — with a thick bass that doesn’t necessarily overpower the mids or treble, which are themselves close to crystal clear. My copy has an egregious skip in the middle of “All Alone” that I haven’t figured out how to fix, but that doesn’t stop me from suggesting the record sounds clean and well represented.
Similar to the release of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch back in January, Demon Days is housed inside a resealable plastic sleeve with a sticker that adorns the album’s VMP repress info. While I’m always for being provided plastic sleeves, VMP’s tendency to have the resealable tape on the flap, instead of the sleeve itself, is most annoying. Considering the tight amount of space you already have in putting the record back, the tape on the flap will stick to the record jacket when trying to shove it back in, with the potential of leaving residue. I would almost rather have the record be displayed in its natural housing and placed easily instead of fumbling around with the sleeve.
Aside from the annoyance, Demon Days is wonderfully treated. With the exception of new stickers with each of the characters as seen on the front cover, the gatefold is supposedly a full recreation of the original pressing. The VMP edition brings its usual cocktail pairing and 12″x12” artwork, which would ordinarily be an interesting and alternative perspective of the record and its own cover art, but considering this is Gorillaz, a purposely visual band, you would almost hope to receive original or re-printed artwork of Gorillaz themselves by Jamie Hewlett. As nice of an item it is for them to provide, I feel like this case is a missed opportunity, especially for fans of the band.
Then there are the records themselves, which are both on translucent blood-red vinyl. There is no suggestion by VMP that these are 180-gram, but these feel like nice, heavy records, which might also add to their superior sound quality (and definitely will add to their durability). They are individually housed in separate sleeves inside the jacket, each containing a member of the band on each side.
“Demon Days” was available as the April Record of the Month through Vinyl Me, Please, and is now sold out. The May Record of the Month will be Fiona Apple’s “Tidal,” and you can sign up for a VMP membership here.