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2D, Murdoc, Russel and Noodle. If you think about it, these aren’t really odd names for the members of a hip-hop group. Understanding and acceptance becomes a little harder when you realise that the Gorillaz are an animated quartet.

When they debuted in 2000 with their Tomorrow Comes Today EP it was difficult for the world’s music press to get a single clue about the band’s origins. All questions were either answered in a slightly spaced-out manner by singer/keyboardist 2D, or with genuine menace by their possibly Satanic bassist Murdoc. Drummer Russel and 10-year-old guitarist Noodle couldn’t be counted on to make any real sense either. It was only after the 2001 release of the single Clint Eastwood and their self-titled debut album that listeners began to figure out that the vocals sounded a lot like those of Blur frontman Damon Albarn.

What eventually came out was that Gorillaz was conceived as the first virtual hip-hop group by Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, Albarn, Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori, and the Tom Tom Club's Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. The stunning visuals were the brainchild of Jamie Hewlett, an artist who is best known in the cult comics universe as the creator of Tank Girl. Rounding up the creative team behind the Gorillaz quartet were DJs Kid Koala and Del tha Funkee Homosapien. In a world going rapidly virtual it wasn’t such a bad idea, or much of a stretch for the imagination, to believe that a virtual band could find favour with the music-buying public.

For the follow-up album Demon Days, Nakamura is no longer at the console. That honour went to Danger Mouse (real name, Brian Burton), the artist behind the wholly illegal but wildly popular Grey Album which was released last year and brought the concept of the mash-up to the forefront in terms of media and audience awareness. The Grey Album featured a re-imagined and remixed set of songs that ‘mashed up’ tracks from rapper Jay-Z’s Black Album with tracks from The Beatles’ White Album. The success, on the bootleg circuit, of The Grey Album was also a driving force behind the legitimate coming together of Jay-Z and Linkin Park for the Billboard Albums chart-topping Collision Course album. With all the attention the project got, it was only a matter of time before Danger Mouse’s skills were used on a legitimate recording.

In the words of the band however, it was Noodle who took over the writing and production duties for this record. As drummer Russel Hobbs tells it, “Murdoc may try and take the credit for it, but from the basic sketches to the finished album, this was Noodle's vision." The diminutive martial arts expert and guitarist put her own take on success and making music when she said, "Every great band is destroyed by their success: cartoon bands are no exception." Like their debut album, Demon Days also features a cast of characters that aren't animated, but no less dynamic. Booty Brown from the Pharcyde appears on Dirty Harry (the creative team clearly has a Clint Eastwood fixation), rapper MF Doom lends support to November Has Come and there is even a bizarre cameo appearance by Dennis Hopper, who contributes a solemn spoken-word piece to Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head. Additional contributions are also provided by Neneh Cherry, Martina Topley-Bird, Roots Manuva, Shaun Ryder, the London Community Gospel Choir and the San Fernandez Youth Chorus. The first single off the new album, Feel Good Inc. features a guest performance by De La Soul.

The band, as well as Albarn, feel that their sophomore effort is a darker and more intense affair than 2001's Gorillaz. Noodle thinks, "The soul of the recording can't avoid being a manifestation of the time, climate and location of the place we were in when it was recorded. Consequently the colours are rich, dark and heavy while the rhythms are clean, strategic and relentless. It has a consciousness to it." Albarn felt that the earlier album was a lot more simplistic and he is satisfied with the new one’s darker tone. So even though it is pop music, the tone reflects the state of the world as it is right now. Of course 2D thinks the whole project sounds like, “someone has taken the first album and coloured it in."

You can read the rest of our feature on Gorillaz in the May 2005 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.

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