Demon Days was the second major album released by alternative pop outfit and virtual band Gorillaz. Former Blur headman, Damon Albarn, and artist Jamie Hewlett created a concept for the band in which there was not a focus on the members in real life but instead on 4 cartoon band members; Noodle on guitar, Russel on percussion, Murdoc on bass, and 2-D on synth and vocals. This meant that the band only technically required 2 artists; Damon for the music and Jamie to draw the characters. Because of this, the real-life band could be fluid, having an entirely different group for different projects.
Demon Days debuted May 23, 2005, and saw radio success with singles such as “Dirty Harry,” “Feel Good Inc.,” and “Dare.” It loosely follows the frame of a concept album and takes an introspective look at the world post-9/11. It also serves as an autopsy of human nature in general. Covering themes such as the Iraq War, the environment, and school shootings, the name Demon Days refers to the way a post-9/11 world felt to many.
For people who are just now listening to Demon Days, just know that it works best if listened to in order, not as a singles project. I wouldn’t classify this as a flaw of the album, but more as a side effect of the current music culture (with many “albums” being more like compilations). For those new to Gorillaz or alternative and indie pop, Demon Days is a great entry level album. It has served as one of the grandfathers of alternative and experimental pop and is one of my personal favorites.
The album opens with samples of distant screams and the blare of sirens behind a thick orchestral instrumental, which transitions seamlessly into the first real track, “Last Living Souls.” The track features desperate vocals layered over an eerie synth line. Light distortion is used throughout the track simulating emergency radios. Desperate lyrics convey isolation as if the speaker was wondering if anyone is out there. The track’s goal is to simulate the feeling of the days directly following September 11th.
This tone of sheer hopelessness is kept up a few tracks later by “O Green World.” Its vocals are reminiscent of a sinner begging repentance and its lyrics detail the feeling of disparity that comes with self-imposed environmental decay. The speaker begs for the earth to forgive mankind’s wrongs, yet acknowledges the fact that these evils are inevitable. All of this is layered over mechanically churning synths and ominous background vocals.
“Dirty Harry” is the first single off the album and imitates old-school military marching music with a groovy twist. This is one of the most political songs off the album and details the perspective of a soldier during the Iraq War. It offers a perspective on the feelings of manipulation and false patriotism felt by some soldiers.
Out of the entire album, “Feel Good Inc.” is by far the most well-known song. It has a simple yet iconic bass line as well as an equally excellent verse from the featuring group De La Sol. It mostly goes over feelings of disingenuous happiness that is found through complacency that is fed to people by corporations, hence the name “Feel Good Inc.”
One of my favorite tracks kicks off the second half of the album; a cerebral hip-hop tracks with an alternative and old-school vibe. “November Has Come” features the legendary underground emcee MF DOOM and discusses the state of mainstream hip-hop in the mid-2000s. Its instrumental is stunning and features neo-soul and funk influences. DOOM’s lyricism is on point as always and his slow flow gives it a spoken word vibe.
Amongst the desperate tone of Demon Days, the 3rd single “Dare” stands out as a bubbly, “be yourself” anthem, featuring Shaun Ryder. Humorously, the song was meant to be called “It’s There,” but Ryder’s accent made it sound like “Dare.” The track is slightly influenced by disco but still retains in its alternative feel. Although “Dare” may sound like it should stick out like a mom at a Slayer concert, it actually seems very natural.
In contrast “Fire Coming Out of a Monkey’s Head” and “Don’t Get Lost in Heaven” follow a narrative of mankind’s hubris and thirst for excesses. “Fire Coming Out of a Monkey’s Head” is formatted similarly to a free verse poem, set over a twangy bass line and ghostlike background vocals. The poem is narrated by Dennis Hopper, who is a perfect fit. The thing I love about this song is how intentionally versatile it is. When shown to one person, they may say it’s about Iraq or they may say it’s about Vietnam. The next song portrays the aftermath of this lust.
An angelic instrumental, sung by the London Community Gospel Choir, engulfs “Don’t Get Lost in Heaven.” The song is about the corruption of the mountain called Monkey from the previous track. It discusses how the happy village has been turned into a nightmarish metropolis in an attempt at creating a heaven on Earth. The name and chorus of the song serve as some form of cruel irony, almost saying “Enjoy your fake utopia.”
The final song of the album is “Demon Days.” Like the previous track, it features an overblown instrumental and the London Community Gospel Choir. This is the perfect track to end on as it serves as both an adieu and a warning. It bids you well as you finish the album yet cautions you to learn from the lessons taught throughout the album.
I compare Demon Days to walking through a hellish city, similar to the one in “Don’t Get Lost in Heaven.” Trek deeper into the the crime-ridden streets, and the residents will begin to impart upon you their tales. Every song on this tracklist feels like a different perspective from a unique individual, yet still remains consistent. The production itself is amazing and the instrumentation is one of a kind. The heavy genre blending and mastery of mood makes the Demon Days instrumental a great listen as well. The themes are pertinent but not preachy; many are left for the listener to draw their own conclusion.
All of this is not to say that Demon Days doesn’t have its flaws. The sound quality is not the best, but this is often masked by distortion or instrumentation. Some of the lyrics are also lackluster or can be confusing upon first listen. But overall, Demon Days is highly recommended and a great album to really sink the mind into for all 51 minutes. Allow yourself to be swept away by the city; hopefully, you will not get lost.
Photo Credit: Brightside Live