Simply by the way it was made, The Fall marked a moment in modern music history before anyone but the label had even heard the first note. Produced by Albarn during the course of the US leg of Gorillaz recent tour, The Fall is the first album by a genuinely mammoth name to be produced almost exclusively on an iPad. Stumble onto Gorillaz website to grab your copy of the free-to-download (well, fan club only) effort and you’ll find a substantial list of the apps he utilized to do so, and perhaps your own spark of just what can achieved with a little imagination and some relatively affordable technology.
Of course, the very method of its production means The Fall is a slightly atypical Gorillaz album. Instrumental for substantial stretches, and punctuated with colorful vocals from Albarn and soul legend Bobby Womack, The Fall flows through phases of fuzzy, slow-beat dance numbers, passes by the occasional Blur-ish moment (particularly in the opening minute or so of ‘Revolving Doors’) before closing with some sound-effect riddled, spacey musings that might sit well as a photo-montage soundtrack.
Albarn’s Gorillaz guise has taken him in a slightly darker direction recently, particularly with the environmental message behind latest studio effort Plastic Beach, and in many ways offers up the same strange, morose lyrical contrast to a generally happier beat. His fascination with what others might see as inane detail, and ability to turn the smaller things in life into topics of joy while simultaneously slamming the bigger issues comes to the fore in efforts like floating road trip of ‘Little Green Plastic Bags’. In early video release ‘Phoner To Arizona’ a slow backbeat allows a subtle layering of mingling hooks to float to the foreground in a track that’s just begging to be sampled for the club dance floor.
The whole thing, in fact, is layered so extravagantly that it only occasionally takes on that strangely amateur sound that characterized so much of the early ‘this equipment is new’ phase of keyboard-driven electronic music. On some tracks, the stand out melody is simply the one that hasn’t been blended and twisted around the other assorted rhythms to the extent that it takes half a dozen listens to pick out, and the fusions and subtleties add a dimension that makes this eminently listenable. Some tracks are so complex they seem to flex and morph depending on the mood of the listener and the sound set up that plays them.
Despite this, at other times, it all seems so typically Gorillaz. ‘The Joplin Spider’ takes a surrealist angle on the band’s new sailor theme, augmented with the twang of what sounds like a Playstation laser weapon and underwritten with another throbbing ‘drum’ track. The meandering electro-soul of ‘Amarillo’ and left-field stories featuring Texan space dust, dripping water effects and train announcements add an attractively unpredictable, almost schizophrenic twist.
Put this in the context of a Gorillaz studio release, and for all its technical trickery and replay-demanding depth, it could well be their weakest effort to date. Give some thought to what it means, though, and it’s impossible not to feel The Fall is something a bit special. It’s sweeping and sophisticated in a way that suggests hours of complex studio manipulation, yet thrown together on tour using a touch-screen device only fractionally more powerful than a high-end mobile phone over the course of just a month. Offered up with that background and sounding a touch amateur when compared to a studio album with a celebrity cast seems a petty complaint. It also begs a bigger question: if this is what an iPad can achieve musically under the primary tutelage of a single skilled musician recording songs between other tour endeavors, how much more is yet to be extracted from cleverly used app combos?