Back in 2018, the Gorillaz co-creator and vocalist Damon Albarn said fans might have to wait a decade before they hear any new material from the cartoon band. Luckily, his prediction was way off.
Recently, they’ve been steadily releasing singles from their forthcoming album, Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez, which is also being referred to simply as Song Machine. Slated for an October 23 release, the album features an all-star cast, including Sir. Elton John, St. Vincent, Skepta and the incomparable The Cure frontman Robert Smith. Smith joins 2-D, Murdock, Noodle and Russel in outer space in the video for the album’s namesake single, “Strange Timez.”
Introducing the all-star cast of Song Machine Season One ✨STRANGE TIMEZ✨
— gorillaz (@gorillaz) September 14, 2020
When we got wind that Smith was doing a song with the Gorillaz, our first thought was, “How will he be animated?” Well, the video blew away anything our imaginations could possibly conjure up. As the band rapidly accelerates through space in an RV-like spaceship, we’re introduced to Smith as a singing full moon. All we see are his heavily eye shadowed eyes, a faint shadow of his nose and his thin red-lipsticked lips but, without a doubt, you’d know that was Smith from anywhere.
Seeing him sing in this form is bizarre and somehow beautiful. Although he takes different forms throughout the video, his lyrics remain simple and the same: “Spinnin’ around the world at night (Strange times) // Spin in and out of sight.” In its own way, his chorus serves as the resounding note throughout the video that tells us one thing for certain: everything is getting out of control and we can’t escape that reality, even if we ditch good ol’ planet earth.
Nevertheless, the Gorillaz try to escape the chaos, discovering that they can’t break free from the worries of what’s going on back at home, even when they’re thousands — maybe even millions — of miles away. They speak to some of today’s political and social justice catastrophes subtly in the “Strange Timez” lyrics. “Where presidents pin badges on disconnected youth // What would you be dreaming of,” 2-D sings, with his back to an American flag that’s soberly waving in the wind. At one point, Noodle comes face-first with a giant television screen or, as some people would like to call it, a big ass potential propaganda machine. She wants none of that and, almost without hesitation, sets a time bomb on the astronomically-sized electronic and waits to watch it explode.
Murdoc also comes into contact with a screen, although this one is much smaller and oddly placed in the middle of the planet — which we’ve come to now discover as the moon, thanks to its deserted landing crafts and traces of a successful NASA landing. As he goes to investigate it, Smith’s face appears and lures him closer. Murdock bites, putting his hand through the screen and then, almost instantly, falls down a neon technicolor tunnel that’s illuminated with outlines of his bandmates.
Where does he land? In a satirical version of the world he’s been trying so desperately to escape. A plane is flying far too close. The David is propped on top of a political poster-clad wall, and the polluted sky looks almost like drug-laced cotton candy.
As each character’s storyline plays out, the music shifts from trippy game show instrumentals to more rock sounding and urgent. It’s got drums, xylophone and, of course, Smith’s haunting yet incredible vocals. The shift is perfect for what Russel’s been up to this entire time — practicing burnouts in the moon’s surface to transcribe the powerful message, “Be the Change,” which we don’t see until the final scene (spoiler alert, whoops!).
The written message goes perfectly with the theme of the song and looks beautiful when carved into this fictional moon. Although some people prefer their art and their politics to be separate but equal, movements like Be the Change and Black Lives Matter movement are anything but. Instead, they’re calls for equity, equality and justice — things everyone should be able to get behind, right?
Unsurprisingly, this latest video from the Gorillaz is mesmerizing and impressive. When you look at its credit list on YouTube, you’ll see animators, painters, model makers and more. It clearly took an army to visualize the 4-minute video for “Strange Timez” and the hard work definitely paid off. The stars we see throughout the video look like a seriously restrained Jackson Pollock painting — they seem splattered, yet carefully calculated all the same. It’s art, and that’s just one scene.
How the video makers were able to superimpose Smith’s likeness on the moon, a satellite, screens and more, is genius. Each time, we see a little more of his face as the message of the song also becomes less and less subtle. The way that the Gorillaz are able to expertly relay a timely and important message in a fun and fantastical video is nothing short of — we’ll say it again — genius.
To catch the other sensational video episodes from the Gorillaz’s upcoming “Song Machine” album, head over to their YouTube channel.
Featured image: Parlophone