It’s funny to look back at this, Gorillaz’ second/first single (It was the first official single, but they’d snuck out a “Tomorrow Never Comes” ep before that), now; the animation seems hilariously basic compared with what followed, and the song seems very… clean, I guess, and repetitive in a way that later Gorillaz tracks aren’t (It took Demon Days for Albarn to realize what he could do with the Gorillaz concept musically, I think; the first album is much more of a tentative thing, with Dan the Automator more present than Albarn at times). And yet, the singalong quality of Albarn’s part is irresistible, and Del tha Funkee Homosapien’s contribution remains a high point for all of the Gorillaz’ material to date, matched perhaps only by Andre 3000 in “Do Ya Thing.” There’s no way to hear “Finally, someone let me out of my cage” without a smile breaking out on your face and a realization that someone has appeared without the tentativeness that’s been holding the song back until that point. What makes “Clint Eastwood” a classic is the confidence that Del brings that takes it beyond the showgazing and humility of what has come before.
There are so many reasons why “Dirty Harry” shouldn’t work: It has a child’s choir, it’s lyrically very simplistic outside of the Bootie Brown rap, which itself has a political reference that was already dated by the time the song appeared (“So said the speaker/With the flight suit on/Maybe to him I’m just a pawn,” referencing George Bush’s Mission Accomplished speech from 2003). And yet… It’s kind of a great song. What happened?
It’s tempting to put it down the the production; Danger Mouse and Damon Albarn have definitely created a great backing for the vocals here, with the phased organ, funk guitars, horror movie strings and the wonderfully vacuum-ish swoop and dive as Bootie does his stuff (Listen to this version of the song without the rap to see what I mean; skip to the 2:10 mark:
It’s great, isn’t it?)
What’s fascinating to me is to hear the original demo for this song, which was released under an entirely different name (“I Need A Gun”) on Damon Albarn’s Democrazy album. It’s recognizable for the vocal hook, but nothing else:
Somewhere in the Gorillaz vaults, there are works-in-progress that show how this song went from that barebones demo to the final version; I’d love to hear them, and find out how the whole thing was built, piece by piece, with every new ingredient just seeming like a bad idea that somehow comes together.
Still tired, still ready to disappear for the weekend and enjoy my invisibility from the Internet and work for a couple of days (Not that there aren’t songs lying ahead for your enjoyment tomorrow and Sunday, because there are; I really am trying to catch up, I swear), but I thought that this song made for both a nice contrast to “The Puritan” earlier and also an aural description of my state of mind after this weird week of work. Damon Albarn, you’ve definitely had an odd and varied year in terms of releases…
A quick jump back to things Albarn for this song off his just-out Dr. Dee album/soundtrack/opera/whatever. I heard an earlier version of this back when it was being called “Clacton” and leaked as a bootleg with a much different arrangement, and it barely floated by without notice. This version, though, has been stuck in my head since first hearing it, much to the amusement/annoyance of my wife who is probably sick of me playing it and replaying it over and over again. It’s the handclaps and backing vocals that start at 1:14, though; there’s something about those that are entirely hypnotic to me, barely there but making all the difference and sounding both contemporary and timeless at the same time. They make it impossible to get the song out of my head.
It’s possible that there’s a song somewhere in the world of music that more easily and quickly evokes the idea of a damaged relationship trying to be repaired than Gorillaz’ “To Binge” (from Plastic Beach, which may or may not be the final “proper” Gorillaz album depending on what rumors you care to believe), but if there is, I doubt it has a moment that tugs the heartstrings as much as when Damon Albarn sings “But I just have to tell you that I/Love you so much these days/I just have to tell you that I/Love you so much these days/It’s true.”
Plastic Beach is a weird album, and “To Binge” a standout song from it because it is so much more fragile than everything that surrounds it, and so much more… traditional, I guess; the song structure is pretty much a basic duet, with very basic accompaniment, which helps make its case as something more honest than the songs it hides between, more heartfelt. Who can listen to this and not want for everything to end up okay for Albarn and Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano and their mini drama implied in this four minute song?
Because of my mental exhaustion, I figured that “Half A Song” felt appropriate today; it’s an unfinished demo from Damon Albarn’s Democrazy, a self-released collection of demos (One of which later became “Dirty Harry,” a Gorillaz single from Demon Days), but despite the fact that it’s more of a sketch than a “song” in many ways, it’s one of the most beautiful things that Albarn has done. That he’s gifted in melancholic melody shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s heard enough Blur or Gorillaz, but the sadness and fragility in this song comes as much from the background vocals that come in at 0:33, shy in a lot of ways but present to give support to the lead vocal in their own shaky way and all the more lovable and believable for that.
I go back and forth about whether or not I’d want Albarn to return to this song and come up with “the other half”; I’m curious to hear what a finished version would sound like, but I also worry that what makes his version so enjoyable would disappear in a version that sounds more produced and complete. Maybe it’s the ghost of the missing half that I really like, in this version. Maybe some things should stay incomplete.