With the Friday release of Gorillaz’ latest album, Humanz, we here at KCOU thought it would be a good time to take a look back at the catalogue of the virtual band’s creator, Damon Albarn. The britpop genius gone electronica pioneer has a backlog spanning almost 3 decades now, giving us quite a bit of material to dig through as we attempt to pin down the five best albums. It’s not an easy task – like many great writers in pop music, Albarn is innately comfortable dancing between genres on a whim. Because of that, your favorite album of his often depends on what genre you prefer. To avoid that type of subjectivity, we’ll focus on including albums that were either very important or very unique. Without further ado, heading up the list in the five spot is…
- Everyday Robots
Technically speaking, Everyday Robots is Albarn’s only solo release, although he’s the only regular musical contributor to Gorillaz. Perhaps for the same reason, it is one of, if not the most intimate and personal albums Albarn ever produced. While his normal persona both on stage and in music videos is that of the manic frontman, this album gives us an insight into a man who is vulnerable, often lonely, and intensely fearful for the future of human society. All in all, highly recommended listening for those who wonder what the iPhone age has done to the human spirit.
(Top tracks: “Everyday Robots”, “Hostiles”, “The Selfish Giant”)
- The Good the Bad and the Queen – Self-titled
This easily the most obscure album on the list, but if you haven’t heard it, shame on you! Only kidding – but really, what’s not to love about a collabo between Damon Albarn and Clash bassist Paul Simonon? Nothing, that’s what. As an added bonus, the whole thing is produced by Danger Mouse, who it seems really did have his hands on everything in the mid-2000s. The whole thing kinda defies description, which is kinda why it’s on this list. Albarn himself described it as “a song cycle that’s also a mystery play about London” – now, I’m not entirely sure what a mystery play is, but if that doesn’t get you excited then you’ve got no heart.
(Top tracks: “Herculean” “Nature Springs”)
- 13 – Blur
Said to be influenced heavily by Albarn’s breakup with his longtime girlfriend, Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann, 13 is another tearjerker of an album. Aside from the obvious emotional content, it also marked Blur’s evolution as a band and a move away from their traditional Britpop stylings. It can be considered the endpoint of the subgenre, in fact, and for that reason it is highly influential. Back in the 90s in Britain, Blur could do little wrong, and as they went so went their hordes and hordes of imitators. Er, contemporaries. Yeah, that’s what I meant.
(Top tracks: “Tender” “Coffee & TV” “Trimm Trabb” “No Distance Left to Run”)
- Plastic Beach – Gorillaz
Ah, Plastic Beach. I’ll be honest, I may be showing my bias in including this album on the list at all, but it’s the Gorillaz album which has received the most spins from me and so it holds a special place in the cold cockles of my heart. Without a doubt, it’s a highly polarizing record that has a lot of songs people seem to simply hate (“Superfast Jellyfish” and “Some Kind of Nature” in particular), but how many albums can you think of that can bring artists as diverse as Snoop Dogg, Little Dragon, and Lou Reed together successfully? I’m going to save you some time and tell you that there aren’t any more than this one, so don’t bother looking.
(Top tracks: “Stylo” “Empire Ants” “On Melancholy Hill” “Rhinestone Eyes”)
Honorable Mention: Demon Days – Gorillaz
You probably knew when you started reading this list that it would either contain two Gorillaz albums or two Blur ones. Congratulations, you were right! Anyway, this is a great album that fell just short of the number one spot for one main reason. As we all know, this is the one with “Feel Good Inc.” on it. That’s a great song, but it’s also part of the problem. Through no fault of its own, the whole thing has become a bit overplayed. Still, a fantastic record and one that was this close to being worthy of the one spot.
Side note: For some reason, my brain remembers the name of this album as Demon Dayz, but the album is still really rad even if its name isn’t quite as rad as I remember.
(Top tracks: “Kids With Guns” “Dirty Harry” “Feel Good Inc.” “El Mañana”)
- Parklife – Blur
This is the one album that took Blur from success to excess and catapulted them into the pantheon of British music history. Seriously, you might not have heard it, but it’s that important. Not only was it another salvo in the “Battle of Britpop” against the likes of famed douchelords Liam and Noel Gallagher and their band Oasis (remember “Wonderwall”?), it also established Damon Albarn as one of the foremost cultural critics of the time. Incisive wit and catchy hooks make this one of the tightest and most complete albums… ever. If you’re a human being with two ears and a brain in between, you can find something about this album to like quite a bit, and that’s very special indeed.
(Top Tracks: “End of a Century” “Badhead” “To the End” “This Is a Low”)
by Dean Cowles