Gorillaz: Points of Departure
No band is an island. The best songwriters tend to be sponge-like soaker-uppers of music, film, fine art, literature and other forms of culture, be they popular or obscure, and these influences often find their way into the music, helping listeners branch out and develop new interests. With Points of Departure, we use our favorite groups as springboards for broader cultural investigations and highlight some of the cool things you might get into via your record collection. This week: Gorillaz.
Gorillaz was formed in 1998 by Blur frontman Damon Albarn and comic book artist Jamie Hewlett, who envisioned a world where cartoon characters led virtual bands. Gorillaz was made up of four such characters, created and illustrated by Hewlett in a style similar to his work in the groundbreaking 'Tank Girl' comics he worked on in the late '80s. Gorillaz's album covers, videos and public appearances are populated by Hewlett's characters. Onstage, Albarn and his revolving band of Gorillaz even play in the shadows as video screens project the cartoon characters, who take center stage.
Gorillaz's self-titled debut album from 2001 was filled with jazz, pop, soul, punk, reggae and hip-hop influences. Oakland rapper Del tha Funkee Homosapien spit rhymes on two of the album's best cuts, 'Clint Eastwood' and 'Rock the House.' On the followup album, 2005's 'Demon Days,' NYC indie rappers De La Soul guested on 'Feel Good Inc.,' Gorillaz's highest-charting single. Underground hip-hop icons MF Doom and Mos Def have also shown up on Gorillaz records.
Gorillaz's first single, simply titled 'Clint Eastwood,' pays tribute to the legendary actor with direct quotes -- the "I got sunshine in a bag" line comes from 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' -- and references to Eastwood's long career (while he never appeared in the TV show 'Gunsmoke,' he did star in 'Rawhide,' another western). Gorillaz followed up 'Clint Eastwood' with 'Dirty Harry' on their next album -- a nod to one of Eastwood's most famous roles, a no-rules San Francisco cop the tough guy played in five movies.