Damon Albarn is an that has ebbed and flowed his way through different genres since Blur shared their debut album, Leisure, 30 years ago in 1991. Over the next decade with his band, Albarn ushered in something that transcended music. Blur became a cultural monolith, one which achieved something almost impossible for a guitar band to do in this modern digital age.
It’s impossible to ignore the zeitgeist appeal of Blur. Few bands have managed to pull off what they managed at the peak of their powers, effortlessly toying with the commercial values of pop stardom alongside an arthouse approach. If you grew up as an adolescent in the 1990s, then likely there’s only one answer when it comes to Blur or Gorillaz — an answer that often excludes our furry primate friends. However, as a fan that grew up and fell in love with music when Albarn had moved on to ventures new, it’s a more complex area, one with Gorillaz soundtracking the following generation in a similar way that Blur dominated the Britpop era.
To Blur’s credit, they didn’t just stay true to one sound, which is a pivotal factor as to why they are remembered as the best from the Britpop group to have gained prominence over their generation. While Albarn was never afraid of experimenting with Blur, it was in Gorillaz that he was fully unleashed. Freed from the boundaries of being within a traditional four-piece guitar band liberated him, and suddenly he could express himself in ways that were impossible to achieve within the claustrophobic nature of Blur.
In the 1990s, Blur exploded out of Essex and put up a fight to become the voice of a generation. They were one of the biggest bands around, a group who epitomised the hedonistic ’90s with their bolshy sound that had the credentials to back up their bravado and an arsenal of tunes that made them more than just another Britpop band. Fast forward a few years, however, and Gorillaz is the sound of a more confident Albarn exploring the other side of his musical brain.
Blur will always be a band that Albarn returns to, and he still lives for the buzz of performing with three of his closest friends, which creates a different kind of energy in comparison to Gorillaz. Blur is about celebrating those halcyon days of the past. In contrast, even though Gorillaz are 20 years young, every release sees the group continue to move with the contemporary sounds. Despite being around for two decades, they still feel as fresh and relevant thanks to Albarn’s want to keep moving at all times.
Staying with contemporary trends is evident across Gorillaz’ recent work with the trap-influenced beats that litter 2020’s Song Machine. The band also continuously recruit new faces from across different eras to their projects, many of whom chomp at the bit to explore a new area. Song Machine brought together Georgia and Peter Hook on ‘Aries’, with ‘The Pink Phanton’ colliding Atlanta’s 6lack on the same track as Elton John.
Elsewhere on the record, there were star-studded appearances from Beck, Kano, St. Vincent, Slowthai, Fatoumata Diawara, Schoolboy Q and Robert Smith. At first, this eclectic blend of artists from across the musical scale seems wild to feature on the same album, with Song Machine perfectly epitomising both the fluidity of Gorillaz and the modern music taste.
Music tastes have never been as fluid and assorted as they are now; the times of people willingly tie themselves to the mast of one genre or style are a thing of the past, unless you’re a die-hard metal fan. Blur were part of the age when a love of a particular music genre was adopted as a personality trait by fans, who were either grunge obsessed, a Britpop head or a raver. The tribal approach to music was so intense that fans felt compelled to pick between ‘Blur or Oasis’ rather than just enjoying the brilliance they both concocted at their peak. If you loved one, you probably would love the other too, if you allowed yourself to.
Gorillaz have continued to embrace that music taste isn’t a binary thing, and it’s a complex beast that can change depending on the mood, weather, or a million other factors. Blur can be a wonderful tonic when you’re in the right frame of mood to listen to their cocksure sound. Conversely, Gorillaz have a sound for every mood or emotion, which not only makes them Albarn’s most outstanding achievement but the quintessential modern band, who refuse to be pigeon-holed or pinned down.