No one could’ve predicted that 16 years after the release of Parklife—among the most British-sounding of all the mid-’90s Britpop classics—the seminal album’s chief architect would tour U.S. arenas at the helm of a successful alt-electro cartoon band. But Gorillaz’s stateside popularity isn’t just a one-sided love affair for Damon Albarn; on The Fall, which was recorded on an Apple iPad during the band’s fall 2010 tour, he shows his elation at finally getting acquainted with America.
Collecting demo-like sound-collages and song sketches with names like “Shy-town” and “The Snake In Dallas,” The Fall at first listen seems more interesting as a concept than as music. Still, there are plenty of rough-cut pop gems. The first half of “HillBilly Man” offers spare Brazilian folk, while the second part resembles an off-balance Timbaland production. The laser blasters and Albarn’s patois-inflected chant on “The Joplin Spider” seem to nod to M.I.A., while “The Parish Of Space Dust” is a prairie paean complete with drawling harmonies and radio jabber nabbed from a Houston country station.
Each track on The Fall hails from a different American city, and unlike on past Gorillaz records, the guest stars are kept to a minimum. An exception comes with perhaps the album’s best song, “Bobby In Phoenix,” a positively enchanting mix of Bobby Womack’s larger-than-life soul-man crooning and a spare, modern bed of Dirty Projectors-inspired acoustic R&B licks and synthetic textures. But the effect isn’t that different on “Revolving Doors,” where Albarn sings a Kerouac-style travelogue over a bluesy jangle and a simple hip-hop beat. The Fall’s overarching mellowness sometimes makes it difficult to sink in, but the end result is more than a tour diary. It’s as eclectic as any Gorillaz record, and nearly as rewarding over repeated listens.