It’s about time I did this, and it’s three bands for the price of one — especially since I’m now, in the lead-up to my time off work following surgery, playing a medley of all three as I walk around London… and my mother doesn’t like the first two, but although she likes the third, “boss lady” doesn’t — hence these are musicians I listen to by myself, on my own terms.
(Oddly, I haven’t listened to Eminem or Gwar for a couple of months now, despite getting their albums for Christmas… maybe later in the year I’ll add them in?)
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Just so you know what they looked like at the start of the band’s career, in “Clint Eastwood”
First of all, Gorillaz, the “virtual band” created by Blur’s Damon Albarn, who provides the singing voice of “2-D”, the lead singer — so named due to the “two dents” in his head left by the actions of Murdoc, who was put in charge of him as a punishment, discovered his excellent singing voice, and decided to form a band with him, taking on himself the role of bassist and manager (signing off his press releases with “Hail Satan!”). They found a lead guitarist, a mysterious Japanese girl known as “Noodle” (the only English word she could say at first), and as drummer an African-American named Russel (who had the ghosts of his dead homies living in his head).
At least, that’s how they started in 2001, when I learned of their presence through the video “Clint Eastwood” (guest starring American rapper Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, who I got into separately afterwards, thanks to my old American roommate). I soon bought their self-titled debut album — the first time in my life I’d bought an album when it was new and in the charts — but it took me time to get into them, as they have not one musical style, but about a dozen! However, I learned that albums can grow on me, even if I’m a little perplexed at first, and later in the year, when I was unemployed and spent a lot of my time watching music channels, I recognised the songs “19-2000” (with Noodle singing in English but subtitled in Japanese!), “Tomorrow Comes Today” (apparently their original video, made before their album), and “Rock the House” (again featuring Del as a ghost who lives in Russel’s head).
However, it’s later that I began to enjoy the tracks that weren’t released as singles — such as “Sound Check (Gravity)”, “Double Bass”, “New Genius (Brother)” and “Latin Simone (¿Qué Pasa Contigo?)”, and added those to my musical rotation (back before I began putting whole albums on my music player du jour), and this persisted with their second album, Demon Days, which I first heard (courtesy of a housemate) in 2005, but only got hold of for myself in 2008. Much as I enjoy the classic “Feel Good Inc.” (which I liked for the music before I even saw the video), “DARE” (performed by Noodle with help from Shaun Ryder), “Dirty Harry” (with a creepy child choir) and “El Mañana” (the video being something of a sequel to the first one in this list), I’ve also enjoyed the album tracks “O Green World” (very distinctive sound) and “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head” (guest starring Dennis Hopper, no less!).
I got hold of their third album, Plastic Beach, in 2010 (on a day when I tried to go on a date and failed miserably), but as before it took me a while: at first I only really enjoyed “Stylo”, and I wasn’t even aware it had a video! However, partly thanks to being allowed to play this and Demon Days in the minibus during my 2013 American camping holiday (by this time I had all my CD albums completely ripped to my smartphone instead of just discrete tracks), I experienced a resurgent interest: two songs in particular, “Glitter Freeze” (featuring Mark E. Smith of The Fall) and “To Binge” (with vocals by Yukimi Nagano from Little Dragon), bring back memories of our drive to Las Vegas.
In 2014 I watched a load of their videos, and again this year, which made me realise how much they’ve done: here’s a list, in approximate story order, of the best songs in Plastic Beach (which I now know to be underrated — it’s a pity they never made it into a trilogy in the end). Note here that 2-D and Murdoc sometimes as 3D characters, along with Cyborg Noodle (built to replace the real Noodle after her apparent death in “El Mañana”), while Russel, having been replaced with a drumming machine, swims to the island and grows enormous due to sea pollution…
And finally, this year I got hold of their other two albums, The Fall and Humanz; the first was something of a postscript to their 2010 work, and I don’t think any official videos have come out, but I do find “Little Pink Plastic Bags” to be one of the eeriest things I’ve ever heard! They’re back in the big time with the latter album, which came out in 2017; I’m still learning the songs (as always happened when I got Gwar albums in 2013 and 2014!), but it’s good to see the videos of “Strobelite” and “Saturnz Bars” (the former showing the band having fun in a nightclub, the latter not unlike Scooby-Doo)! My discovery of these albums is what encouraged me to listen to the band’s works all over again, and I also looked on YouTube to find more of their videos — including Murdoc showing MTV Cribs around their mansion…
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Radiohead were good enough sports to guest star in South Park, although they didn’t play any songs!
It was Gorillaz that got me into their predecessor, Blur, whose albums I’ve been buying from charity shops, and listening to along with other Britpop bands like the Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand and Travis; however, the one I’ve been enjoying the most lately is Radiohead, a group I originally only knew from one video in 2001: “Pyramid Song“, which I saw around the same time as I got into Gorillaz, as I remember speaking to my old American roommate about it when I visited Michigan that summer. However, aside from their guest appearance in South Park, I knew little else about them…
It was in 2015, when I was putting my life back together as I worked towards an IT career, that I started dipping into other music, buying CDs at charity shops in order to give bands a try, and found I enjoyed The Bends, their 1995 album which had passed me by back in those days; my favourite from there would have to be “My Iron Lung“. It’s their 1997 album OK Computer (which I happened to find second-hand at the same time as Amnesiac), which contains the most songs I like and recognise: “Paranoid Android” (never mind the silly animated video and listen to the song), “Exit Music (For a Film)” (which I heard at the end of Christina Ricci’s movie After.Life), and most of all, “Karma Police” (a pity my mother thought it sounded “dreary”, but I embrace melancholic music rather than rejecting it).
(You may be most familiar with “No Surprises” musically (owing to a scene in The Royle Family where it’s “sung” to Baby David), but check out the original video, with lead singer Thom Yorke almost drowning during filming!)
I also enjoyed Amnesiac (2001), in particular “Morning Bell/Amnesiac” (not available online, but it’s worth noting that the line “Release me” oddly reminding me of Brent Spiner in Independence Day!), as well as the surreal “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” and the eerie “Like Spinning Plates” (both combined into a single video here)… and not forgetting the somewhat jaunty yet sinister “Knives Out“.
However, as with Gwar, it was after I got their second, third and fourth albums that I got their first, Pablo Honey, which by an amazing coincidence I’d bought for “female best friend” ten years earlier! And as with “I’m in Love (With a Dead Dog)” on Gwar’s Hell-O, there’s one significant song I like: “Creep” (though note this is the “clean” version, of course!).
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Hey, c’mon, I only had cartoon versions of the other two bands, so here’s an impression of Jay Kay in 2DTV!
Both Gorillaz and Radiohead are largely surreal and melancholy, but the former is capable of cheerful songs (though intended to mock manufactured “poppy” music); a more consistently cheerful band, albeit with some slow, quiet songs, is Jamiroquai, who I’ve been playing in rotation with Prince and Michael Jackson (for whom I also own a great deal of music) over the past couple of years, during my daily walks while commuting.
I first heard the band in my mother’s car in 1996-7, when she drove us both between Worthing and Surrey (where I was attending university and she was working during the week), and often played the tape version of their 1996 album, Travelling Without Moving, the songs of which always bring back my memories of those days. However, I didn’t see any of their videos until “Virtual Insanity” in 1999 (upon returning from my American odyssey)!
Another song I remember, for more poignant reasons (despite, or perhaps because of, its up-tempo jauntiness), is “Cosmic Girl“: I had it as a discrete track in 2012 (before I bought the whole album on CD), and hearing it in early November made me feel sad, missing those days when we drove together, thinking I’d left part of my life behind and needed to reconnect with her, as gratitude for all she’d done to keep me going during the bad times…
(Mind you, it’s perhaps “Funktion”, the long final secret track, which I recall best in this context: someone blows a raspberry in the opening, and I’d always act mock-indignant about it!)
I didn’t get my own copy of Travelling Without Moving until 2014; before that, I’d received a copy of Synkronized (1999) from “good housemate” (surplus to his requirements), and “borrowed” my mother’s copy of Emergency on Planet Earth (1993), which technically means I broke the law (though even ripping my own CDs is technically a crime!); I think she may have also played that one in the car at some stage during my university years (or when we drove to work together in 2003), as at least one song is very familiar. I later found Return of the Space Cowboy (released in 1994, the only one in which Jay Kay drops the F-bomb!), A Funk Odyssey (2001) and Dynamite (2005) in second-hand shops, so I feel like I’ve got a full collection of their music now… oh, aside from their 2010 album Rock Dust Light Star (thanks Wikipedia), but I’ll keep my eyes open!
I’ve listened to their music enough times to know which songs I like best — in no particular order, and with no tedious references to which albums they’re from, I’d say “Canned Heat“, “Emergency on Planet Earth“, “Little L“, “Revolution 1993” (a long one, but with no video), “King for a Day“, “Light Years“… had enough of me linking to YouTube videos yet? I’m sure Google aren’t, as it increases their advertising revenue…
Dynamite is my most recent acquisition, and I’m still learning the songs, but one track is most distinctive to me: “World That He Wants” — it creeped me out one morning as I started playing it in my headphones as I set off for work, and thought something had gone wrong: the first 60 seconds are quiet and in the left speaker, before it goes full stereo and high fidelity!
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So there you have it — my three favourite bands at the moment; sorry I’ve spent so long droning on about them (this took me days to write, way longer than my long “cool things” post about Doctor Who in 2013), but it’ll be interesting to see how I feel when I’ve recovered enough from brain surgery to listen to music again (assuming I’m even allowed to put headphones on any time soon!).
I’ve still got 100 of their combined tracks left to listen to in my phone music app’s queue, and I won’t get through all of them by Tuesday (when I check into hospital for the big event), but this just means I have one more thing to live for — or, as Jamiroquai themselves put it: I’m “Too Young to Die“…
I’d say all three artists make me feel both happy and sad in equal measure… which of course is the very nature of music, right?