Forgive the language, but Damon Albarn is an unutterably talented fucker. Regular readers will remember The Good, The Bad & The Queen taking the prime spot in the Just Played countdown of the best albums of the previous decade, as well as ‘Think Tank‘ appearing in the top five also. Left to his own devices, he creates all kinds of spellbinding music and even found time in 2010 to squeeze in a new single by Blur. ‘Fool’s Day’ was a fine addition to that particular band’s discography and there’s talk of another for this year’s Record Store Day. The musical identity of Albarn’s with which I’ve had occasional issues is Gorillaz and that’s not to say I haven’t loved much of what he has released under that name. The problem lies with the inconsistency, by virtue of being made up of numerous collaborators, of the albums. ‘Plastic Beach’ has some great moments but it never really grabbed me as a complete unit. I rather like Albarn in ‘twatting about’ mode and found his vinyl only ‘Democrazy‘ release fascinating and really rather enjoyable. All of which means that the Christmas Day release of ‘The Fall’ was a source of excitement without the need for any sprouts on the side.
Made on an iPad during this autumn’s Gorillaz tour of America, this hastily constructed, bleepy sketchbook of a record is a delight. If you fall on the wanker side of the ‘Albarn – genius or wanker?’ debate then this will only serve to infuriate you even more but if you tend to give everything he releases a fair chance then ‘The Fall’ may strike you as the last important release of 2010, rather than a charming freebie. Unsurprisingly, it’s a largely electronic affair but even the abstract instrumental pieces like ‘Aspen Forest’ are beautiful, lulling tunes. Who knew this was even vaguely possible on an iPad? I only bought one because it was nice and shiny whereas Damon appears to be able to operate it like a mid-range recording studio. By the time it reaches the end of its fifteen tracks you’ll have forgotten that it was made in such a basic fashion and, whisper it now, I might actually prefer it to ‘Plastic Beach’. Ok, there’s no ‘On Melancholy Hill‘ here but there are plenty of Albarn vocals and that is reason enough to lend it your ears. ‘Revolving Doors’ is blessed with one of those floaty, aching Damon performances which made ‘Hong Kong’, ‘Out Of Time’ and most of TGTB&TQ so utterly lovely.
And then there’s ‘Hillbilly Man’, all looped low key guitar refrains to begin with before the squelchy sound used to such great effect on ‘Doncamatic‘ makes a rather more laid-back appearance. It’s a curious beast, evoking memories of the more odd moments of the Gorillaz debut in part, and it serves to underline the fact that ‘The Fall’ should be treated as an album in its own right rather than as a throwaway download freebie. It’s not leaping around waving like its major label brothers and it is, entirely in keeping with a record recorded whilst a long way from home, a rather more introspective affair, but there’s much to enjoy and plenty to love. ‘Detroit‘ is a buoyant instrumental piece to cheer the soul while ‘The Parish Of Space Dust’ is an oddly moving audio collage, sampling American radio in place of verses ahead of a double tracked, swooning Albarn chorus. It’s magical.
‘The Fall’ will likely end up as a footnote to ‘Plastic Beach’, just as the near-perfect ‘Hong Kong’ quietly slipped out on a War Child compilation and received minimal attention, but consider yourself notified that that would be a crime. Seek it out, turn it up and see what you make of it. It deserves that much, at the very least.