I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a band, virtual or otherwise, that has only two albums, but also two companion b-side compilations. But, that’s the Gorillaz for you. Damon Albarn has been a fairly busy guy in his lifetime. Besides his own solo career, he’s been an instrumental part of Blur (duh), Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad and The Queen. If Think Tank showed us anything, it was that Blur is better with Graham Coxon, though still entertaining. We really have no idea whether GB&Q could exist without Albarn, but we now know, through D-Sides, the second b-side compilation, that Gorillaz could definitely live on without all of the rotating guest stars. You see, D-Sides is basically Albarn alone, and it’s still really damn good.
After the animated band’s first release, Miho Hatori, Dan the Automator, and several cameo musicians were out of the picture. Danger Mouse took the place of Dan, but besides illustrator Jamie Hewlett, everyone else was temporary. Hell, even Danger Mouse might not last until album number three. As far as the music of the Gorillaz goes, this is Albarn’s gig. If one enters into D-Sides with this in mind, rather than expecting the same high energy singles that were “Clint Eastwood,” “DARE,” “Feel Good Inc.” and “Dirty Harry.” Most of the first disc finds Albarn stretching out musically. Opener “68 State” is an instrumental synth groove, “Hong Kong” is an eastern-influenced epic soundtrack and “Highway (Under Construction)” is a mostly meditative piece. Both are fantastic, but vastly different than the aforementioned well-known singles. There are a few moments of single-worthy tunes, including “People,” “We Are Happy Landfill” and “Rockit,” which finds Albarn using “blah blah blah” as most of the lyrical content to make a point. It is essentially these three songs that make the first disc so great.
But, unlike the first compilation of b-sides, there’s a second disc of remixes and it starts with one of the best I’ve heard. Thank you James Murphy. DFA takes on “DARE” as the first track, stripping it down in true DFA / LCD fashion to just drums, a few fuzzy synth notes and a groovelicious bass line. It makes me want to dance like Murphy, my arms chugging forward like a pantomime train. Man, I love this song. It was great to begin with, but Murphy makes it that much better. Unfortunately, Soulwax and Junior Sanchez don’t have the same amount of success with the same song, as, for some reason, Albarn’s falsetto is replaced with the vocals of Rosie Wilson. The Stanton Warriors (aka Mark Yardley and Dominic Butler) take on the ubiquitous “Feel Good, Inc.” by emphasizing its dance inducing tendencies. Jamie T, Britain’s singer / songwriter wunderkind, gives his accented panache to “Kids With Guns.” Hot Chip do the same for that track that DFA did with “DARE,” essentially making it their own, not merely playing with knobs, but interpreting it in their own inimitable style. The remix of “Dirty Harry,” called the `Schtung Chinese New Year Remix’ is superb, using Chinese schoolchildren during the verses, and replacing the Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown with Chinese rapper MC Yan.
Essentially, this compilation has one disc for each type of Gorillaz fan. You have the mostly Albarn-created first disc and the dance oriented remixes of the famous singles from Demon Days. To get a taste of both, listen to the very last remix, the Quiet Village version of “Kids With Guns,” stripping the song down to just tribal rhythms to back up Albarn’s hypnotic voice, which then transforms into a Massive Attack style trip-hop number. I don’t think I’ll ever guess what the future holds for Albarn, he keeps pushing the envelope with new bands and projects, and a Blur reunion is always a floating rumor, but at least we have a huge collection of great stuff to which he’s contributed, and this is the latest gem.