Forget about Gaga's outfits or Kanye's stage sets. Gorillaz are back with a new video, new album and new storyline to prove that they're the most scifi musical act around - especially now that one of them is a cyborg.
The impressive video for "Stylo" made its debut online yesterday, complete with surprise guest-star and mysterious plot - Why are 2D, Murdoc and Noodle (or an android that looks like Noodle, at least) being chased? Is that smoke cloud that turns into a man Death? Where's Russel? - to officially tease next week's launch of new album Plastic Beach.
But, like previous release Demon Days, Plastic Beach is more than just an album; it's a new storyline and status quo for the fictional characters that make up the public face of the band, and it's here that Gorillaz steps up to become a Lost-like mythology that rewards investigation, online scavenger hunts for information and piecing everything together. Teaser videos for the album have shown three of the band's four members to date in circumstances that only come really together if you'd read a story about the band's return in Q Magazine at the start of the year, but entertain and entice even if you hadn't (Look at The Prisoner shout-out in 2D's tease!).
For those who want to catch up with the backstory of Plastic Beach as more than just a collection of great music - You can listen to the entire thing, pre-release, here - here's what you need to know:
Noodle, the band's guitarist, is seemingly dead. She was last seen falling through the skies in the "El Manana" video from Demon Days, and it's since been discovered that she was kidnapped by demons and taken to Hell afterwards. The Noodle that's around now is a not-exactly-fully-functional cyborg clone built by Murdoc, Gorillaz' Keith Richards-gone-even-more-wrong bassist, as part-musical replacement and part-bodyguard. Murdoc is being hunted down by a group of disgruntled pirates called The Black Clouds (and suddenly that part of the "Stylo" video makes more sense) after selling them shitty weapons in a get-rich-quick scheme gone wrong. After the Clouds' destroyed the Gorillaz' previous recording studio (Kong Studios, home of the band's website for the first two albums), Murdoc decamped to Point Nemo - an island described as "the furthest point from any landmass known to man" - and set up a new base of operations to make a new album. Not that the rest of the band wanted to; drummer Russel (Who, way back during the first album, managed to conjure Del The Funkee Homosapien from his head in the "Clint Eastwood" video) and singer 2D refused to join in, but a quick kidnapping - as seen in the 2D tease - and a drum machine fixed those problems.
That would seem to be enough - It's definitely more effort than normally goes into interviews surrounding a new album - but Plastic Beach has more. Apparently, the album is named after a mysterious book containing the history of the world that Murdoc found on Point Nemo, one that also suggests that 2010 may be the mythical End of Days, giving the videos, website and other promotional efforts surrounding the music even more of a storyline to play with. Is Plastic Beach all about the apocalypse? Will the real Noodle escape from Hell (Is there still a "real Noodle"?)? We know that a pissed-off Russel seems to be headed to the island after all, will he save the day? And what do the Black Clouds really want?
What makes Gorillaz so interesting isn't just the music, or the idea of a fictional band; if it were, then the Archies would've been the basis for all pop since the late 1960s. Instead, it's that the project refuses to recognize boundaries; it's not just about the music, but also the videos and stories that accompany them. Co-creator Jamie Hewlett works with Cass Browne, former member of the Senseless Things - the band that gave Hewlett his first record sleeve illustration gig, back during the Tank Girl days - and current Gorillaz touring band member, on writing the material. And this writing is given as much importance in the project as musician and co-creator Damon Albarn.
Musically and creatively, boundaries are ignored; the new album pushes Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys together with De La Soul, includes other guests from Lou Reed and the rhythm section of the Clash to Little Dragon and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, while the backstory skips between genres (pirates and cyborg clones and the end of the world oh my) and continually reinvents the characters and their surroundings. Are the fictional characters less important than the real musicians? Do fans care that they're not real any more than the characters in Lost aren't real? - Gorillaz defies easy description, pigeon-holing and gimmickry. We're not sure if they really are the future of music, but it's a future of music we'd definitely like to see.
Plastic Beach is released next week.