Jack Teters, co-host of the podcast The Only Opinion That Matters, was in several metal and hardcore bands, and is an aspiring screenwriter.
I confess that I get into the same situation every time a band starts to promote their latest music. Whenever I hear the first release from a band's upcoming record, and this is especially true with bands I really like, I usually refuse to consider the possibility that the song is really a taste of the rest of the album. Thus, when I heard "Humility," a few months before The Gorillaz surprisingly dropped The Now Now (barely a year after Humanz), I enjoyed its mellow atmosphere and upbeat guitar-work, but for some reason I expected the album to be much more diverse. Alas, The Now Now really does rely heavily on that easygoing, relaxing, and mostly pleasant wave that "Humility" kicks off, and while it is far less diverse and interesting than Humanz, it succeeds largely as a way to hang back and relax after the zany miscellany of that record.
Damon Albarn leans much more heavily on his own vocals this time around, with only a couple of guest spots throughout the album. The first is that of George Henson on "Humility," which adds a soulful character to the instrumentals, and the second is shared by Jamie Principle and Snoop Dogg on "Hollywood." "Hollywood" is easily the most fun and party-friendly song on The Now Now, and Snoop Dogg is largely to credit for that. His verse would be an exceptional addition to any rap release, and its inclusion on a this particular record would almost feel out of place if this was to be someone's first time listening to the Gorillaz. Besides these tracks, Albarn makes the most of his own melancholy vocal style, keeping most of his lines low in the mix, with some occasional high pitch crooning to balance things out.
Despite his low-key vocals, there is an air of optimism throughout The Now Now that isn't present on a lot of other Gorillaz releases. Besides "Humility," songs like "Kansas" and "Idaho" may still wander into largely mopey territory with their lyrics ("I landed on the silver lake/ Washed up and feeling blue"), but the synth and bass tracks are much more upbeat and seem to communicate that, yes, Damon Albarn can in fact be hopeful about certain things. Additionally, "Tranz," "Sorcererz" and, in particular, "Lake Zurich," rely heavily on synthesizers, creating dance-centric songs begging to be played in nightclubs in sci fi movies.
Although they are amusing, these songs, and others like "Fire Flies," seem about one solid hook away from being truly great songs, and never quite truly reach their potential. Outside of the first three tracks, and the bright, electro-pop standout "Magic City," there is not a lot of tunes that would really qualify as memorable, or even attention grabbing. After listening to the album once, I was hard-pressed to find a song outside of the singles to recommend to other people, which usually is not a good sign.
There is a lot to like on The Now Now, though, and I don't think putting out a simple, straightforward pop-alternative album in between the more noisy releases is necessarily a bad move for Gorillaz. Like Arctic Monkeys' Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, which followed the aggressively catchy AM, The Now Now works well as a palate-cleanser. Had it been their first release after 7 years instead of Humanz, I may have judged it more harshly. But its relative distance to that release makes it feel more like a companion peace, a clean, unified collection of tracks to listen to on long drives or while relaxing at the end of the day.