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Apes on the road

The swampy start to the Gorillaz latest album, The Fall, does resemble the stomp of a large, hairy mammal ploughing its way through a dark urban landscape. Indrajit Hazra writes.

columns Updated: May 06, 2011 23:55 IST
Indrajit Hazra

The fall
Parlophone, Rs 395
Rating: ***

The swampy start to the Gorillaz latest album, The Fall, does resemble the stomp of a large, hairy mammal ploughing its way through a dark urban landscape. But 'Phoner to Arizona' provides the sound of a car pulling out of the city limits and heading for the wider unknown. And this is literally what The Fall is about: two Essex lads doing the ultimate rock'n'roll thing — touring North America.

Recorded during the American leg of Gorrilaz's tour of their last album Plastic Beach in October last year — from , this record has speed and motion firmly on its side. Which is kinda apt because the first time I heard the virtual cartoon band — with the real Damon Albarn of Britpop masters Blur and comic book artist Jamie Hewlitt behind the sonic project — it was on British highway on the way to Leeds with my hand out of the window undulating in the motion-breeze to their hit 2001 number 'Clint Eastwood' from the eponymous debut album.

'Revolving doors' is a happy-go-lucky number in which Albarn narrates a journey via diners and the 'eastern seaboard' with his brittle voice as if he's a tour guide gone AWOL. Unlike past albums, The Fall doesn't have a deluge of guest artists. But we have ex-Clash guitarist Mick Jones join Albarn who makes us believe he has one hand on the steering wheel and is Lou Reed — before the rather Clash-like dub-ska tempo overtakes the mood.

'Detroit' has a hypnotic wave-formation providing the beat and a squiggle here and there to form an 'instrumental' that manages to give the impression of passing through an automobile town where General Motors is still making profits. Perhaps an antitode to this musical fantasy, we have 'Shy-Town', a quiet slip-hop track that slipstreams into the faux-Motown of 'Little pink plastic bags' that shares an equal number of sound with silence.

By this time, it's quite obvious that The Fall is, what the punters call, a 'concept album', the concept being moving along the open (Canadian-)American highway. And sure enough, the electrinically replicated sound of speeding bikes, zipping on either sides from both sides of your sound system come forth in the ska-filled autobahn in 'The Joplin Spider'. The slacker-techno sound, however, fails to move beyond the obvious terrain. The hardcore that I so expected to rip out after a rain of piddle sounds never arrive. Was Albarn and Co., I wonder too bothered about sounding like the Chemical Brothers?

'The Parish of space dust' is a paean to America's space programme and the terrible longing of all humans to leave this world behind, via rocket or not. It's a short song of no mean beauty. “Oh Texas can you hear me?/ Speed up on the dawn./ To the pains and blues of Houston/ in the sun./ Where home is a bus/ in the parish of space dust. /Where the mountains die./And today is golden,” sings Albarn with the radio static bringing in snatches of news about the traffic, a local robbery, terrestrial life... Undoubtedly this is the little gem stuck inside an album that otherwise plays with sounds the way you play with your iPad in between your real jobs. What? Someone just told me that Albarn recorded the whole album on his iPad. Should I now get deeply excited?

Pet shop Swans
Fans of Pet Shop Boys, Hans Christian Andersen and Black Swan, rejoice... or, well, at least be inquisitive. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of PSP turn their keyboards and their infectious monotones towards the ballet form. But the way you shouldn't expect Wagner to come out rushing when he hears an Andrew Lloyd Webber, don't expect Tchaikovsky to be asking around who these two blokes with the funny harpsichords and percussion machines are.

The ballet is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a competition to invent the most incredible thing. The 2-CD album, with cheesy boring music interspersed with cheesier 80s style dance machine beats, will be a bummer for fans of 'It's a sin', 'Go West' et al. The ballet could work after one sees it. So wait for the DVD if you're into men in tights.