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Gorillaz: Gorillaz

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As a supergroup, side project, and novelty act all in one, Gorillaz literally looks good on paper. Not only does Gorillaz feature Dan "The Automator" Nakamura and Blur's Damon Albarn (a.k.a. 2-D), but its membership also boasts illustrator and Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett (a.k.a. Murdoc), who envisioned the group as an animated mock band akin to Josie And The Pussycats, but with hipper credentials. Gorillaz is every bit as hit-or-miss as expected, but to its credit, the hits on its self-titled debut sound more impressive and infectious than the misses sound like indulgent flops. It helps that indulgence seems to be part of the point. Gorillaz offers its members the unique opportunity to act as cartoonish as they want, by performing as alter egos free from great expectations. Ranging from hip-hop to art-rock to dub, often all at once, Gorillaz's songs sound suitably casual, and often surprisingly endearing. Standouts include "Tomorrow Comes Today" and "Clint Eastwood," which uses melodica to fuse spaghetti westerns with King Tubby. A trio of rock songs, the arty "5/4," "M1 A1," and "Punk," recall Albarn's later Blur work, while "Man Research (Clapper)" and "Sound Check (Gravity)" find smart ways to tackle techno and balladry, respectively. Of course, Nakamura knows how to provide both background and ingenious foreground, whether in Dr. Octagon, as half of Handsome Boy Modeling School, or, most recently, on Deltron 3030, a spectacular collaboration with Del Tha Funkee Homosapien which also featured a cameo from Albarn. Albarn, for his part, appears to be having fun, especially by comparison to his work on Blur's last dark, messy album. Like a would-be Mel Blanc, he lends the album several distinct voices, ranging from punk sneer to man-on-the-street English slang. But, predictably, Albarn is overshadowed when the indefatigable Del (a.k.a. Russel) makes an appearance on "Clint Eastwood" and "Rock The House." Given the nature of the collaboration, it wouldn't be surprising if Gorillaz never reconvened for a sequel, but that might be for the best. With the weight of a follow-up clouding the no-strings fun, the band's charm might not compensate for its lack of substance a second time.