Gorillaz Album Tier List
The Gorillaz are a British virtual band created by Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett in 1998. The band consists of four members: Stuart “2-D” Pot, Noodle, Russel Hobbs, and Murdoc Niccals.
I remember when I first encountered the Gorillaz…it was a bit traumatic.
That year I decided to try living with my father. He, my stepmother, stepsister, and I lived with my step-grandparents in a house built in the 1800’s. There’s a six-foot organ built into the wall, the house has a tunnel connecting into the nearby church, the stairs creaked, it was full of antiques collected by eccentric rich people, a silhouette of a witch landed outside my bedroom window; the house is creepy is all I’m saying.
I was in the kitchen watching Toonami when the video for Clint Eastwood came on. Set in a graveyard during a thunderstorm with the verses spit by a ghost possessing the drummer; it’s spooky stuff. And like most spooky things, it intrigued me.
“I’m not happy; I’m feeling glad. I’ve got sunshine in a bag.
I’m useless but not for long; the future is coming on.”
Stuck in the middle of a divorce, in a new city, surrounded by strangers, I didn’t connect with the message of self-empowerment and feelings of anger prominent in hip-hop at the time. The Gorillaz were melancholy, pathetic, and vulnerable. I was melancholy, pathetic, and vulnerable. Between the Black character Russell Hobbs and the rap of Del the Funky Homosapien, the Gorillaz felt Black enough to be for me.
From then the Gorillaz stood at the top of my favorite music. I’ve listened and am listening to all their stuff. Here’s my tier list of that discography.
These albums are more respected than enjoyed with the understanding that the work done on these albums often contributes to the strength of the whole discography. These albums deviate from the “norm” of the Gorillaz. These albums feature some missing piece or variance in the structure that’s detrimental to the listening experience.
Favorite Song: Bobby in Phoenix
This album was made on an iPad and it shows; a bit of the Gorillaz soul gets lost in the new technology.
I appreciate it when an artist experiments with new directions and technology. Without experimentation, there cannot be novel content; all good art is experimentation.
That being said, I feel the loss of the rap features. I float through the album until I reach Bobby in Phoenix and even then it doesn’t hold me for long.
Some experiments fail but what’s important is what’s gleaned from them. Though I don’t really like the album I appreciate that it allowed an artist I’m a fan of to try, grow, and learn some things. I’d rather have an artist try new things than keep reheating and serving the old stuff; I have the old stuff, I don’t need more of the old stuff.
Favorite Song: Sex Murder Party
I’m really hard on this album and that is, at times, unfair. I’ve said this album feels like a Gorillaz Pandora playlist and that’s reductive.
The album definitely contains all the elements of the Gorillaz but fails to bring them into a cohesive whole. The problem is the interludes and length. This is the longest Gorillaz album with twenty-six tracks(twenty without the interludes) and comes to an hour and nine minutes (an hour and eight without the interludes). It makes sense to put interludes to break up the length but that comes at the cost of the flow present in other Gorillaz albums. On repeat listens, it’s really hard to just let the album play.
Despite my harsh criticism, I like a lot of the songs from this album: Halfway to the Halfway House, Sex Murder Party, Submission, Out of Body, She’s My Collar, Momentz, and Hallelujah Money. It’s the other side of The Fall; here the elements are all there, just not well put together.
These albums are the “work” of an artist finding their sound. These albums aren’t as polished as The Consumable but work better than “The Flawed Experiments”
Favorite Song: Hong Kong
Every time I think of this album, I think it comes earlier in the Gorillaz discography.
This album suffers the same way Plastic Beach does; Demon Days came first. Demon Days perfects the recipe, Plastic Beach reproduces the recipe and D-Sides experiments with the recipe.
The tracks People and Don’t Get Lost in Heaven point directly to Demon Days. Del the Funky Homosapien comes back in Rockit. This album reaches back into the Gorillaz discography to really figure out what is the Gorillaz. This album pushes the Gorillaz elements to the limits to play with exactly how they work.
My absolute favorite Gorillaz song, Hong Kong. Like Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head, Hong Kong paints a narrative but where Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head narrates a broad myth story, Hong Kong feels extremely specific. It’s as if narrating the exact weekend in Hong Kong that inspired Albarn. I take inspiration from Hong Kong whenever I write settings.
Hong Kong wasn’t originally conceived as a Gorillaz; it was intended to be produced under Albarn’s name which explains the out of the box feel of this album.
Favorite Song: Clint Eastwood
The first album is a classic and repeat listens reveal core Gorillaz aspects.
It’s like looking at old pictures and recognizing yourself. I track the use of hip-hop and rap features. Lonely melancholic sound. The mix of electronic, hip-hop, and rock elements. This is the genesis.
That’s why it sits over HUMANZ and The Fall. This is the beginning; it may be imperfect but that’s because the Gorillaz are still taking shape in this album.
In truth, it should be in a tier above this one by itself. The album features some cool things that haven’t made it back like Latin Simone (Que Pasa Contigo). You find things that fit with the Gorillaz but were shaved off as the sound took shape.
Like all first albums should, all the other albums revolve around it.
These are the polished albums. No longer is there a search for identity; these declare who, what, why, and how the Gorillaz exist. These albums are probably the easiest to share. Songs in the albums in this tier could end up in a movie or commercial.
The Now Now
Favorite Song: Humility
The Now Now came at the right time; I had spent time working on myself and looked forward to a new lease on life. With the backstory of the album being the (temporary) removal of the manipulative Murdoc and rising confidence of 2-D, this album found me right where I was much like Gorillaz did back in middle school.
Here was a hopeful, confident sound that still held onto the melancholy of the Gorillaz; like an acceptance of the pain and a look toward what is working.
We still have classic Gorillaz-ism like a song featuring a rapper about consumable art in Hollywood. It’s nice to see not only a recovery after HUMANZ but to see evolution; the Gorillaz saw not only the pain but also the joy of life.
Also, a Gorillaz “Summer” album rounds out their catalog nicely.
Favorite Song: On Melancholy Hill
Plastic Beach is Demon Days with a bigger budget.
Though outwardly each album follows its own theme, inwardly they both have the same skeleton. They’re very close in length with similar start with Intros that clock in at just over a minute, feature a song about the inauthentic rap/music/art industry (Feel Good Inc./Superfast Jellyfish as the sixth song followed by an immaterial song (El Manana/Empire Ants), both have a song built around a two-word phrase; cut Pirate Jet from Plastic Beach and both albums end on a song of hopeful yet melancholic ambiguity with soulful vocals. If Demon Days is Albarn mastering the Gorillaz feel and sound then Plastic Beach is putting that mastery toward a concept.
Plastic Beach jostles with Demon Days for the same place and though Plastic Beach does everything much more professionally; we already have Demon Days.
One is an anomaly and two is a pattern; Plastic Beach proves that Demon Days was not a fluke but true mastery.
Favorite Song: Demon Days
This is the Gorillaz magnum opus.
This is the album that defines what Gorillaz is as a sound, feeling, experience, etc.
Everything in this album comes together to make a whole greater than the sum of its part. The songs are organized to flow into one another, changing tone, vocal styles and feel without jarring the listener. I still miss the transition from Don’t Get Lost in Heaven to Demon Days. From the Last Living Soul to the Demon Days, from the lone voice of Albarn to the London Community Gospel Choir; it brings the listener on a difficult but upward journey from isolation to hope.
And that’s one thing I appreciated about the Gorillaz. The music met me in a gray place and through slow empathy brought me to an upward journey. As of this writing, the Gorillaz are preparing for the release of their newest album, Song Machine. The Gorillaz show that there is comfort in confronting the real feelings of sadness, there’s hope in things that are gray over black-and-white. That cultural exchange still exists in this polarized world. That you’re not alone in feeling lonely.
They’re a great band, give them a listen.