If you’re a Gorillaz fan, you’re most likely ecstatic right now. We’re currently in Phase 4 of this virtual band’s story, and it has certainly been fascinating so far. With their fifth studio album (Humanz) slated for release on April 28, an upcoming North American tour, and plenty of recently announced festival appearances, cartoon rockers 2D, Murdoc, Noodle, and Russel are giving their devotees much to look forward to (under the direction of Damon Albarn, of course). What a perfect time to revisit the band’s discography and give some recognition to their best B-sides and lesser known tracks. Hopefully, this list will help you mentally and emotionally prepare yourself for Gorillaz’ epic return, whether you’re an Albarn aficionado or just someone who remembers “Feel Good Inc.” as a really cool song.
Sound Check (Gravity) from Gorillaz
Like a lot of music by Gorillaz, “Sound Check (Gravity)” is a complete subversion of the listener’s expectations. The song begins quietly, with the gentle hum of crickets, vulnerable falsetto vocals from 2D, and the faintly ominous plunking of a piano. Then it explodes into a frenzy of booming bass, hip-hop percussion, and turntable scratches. (Oh, yeah—there’s also a guy with a deep voice intensely mumbling something. Nobody seems to be able to decipher what he’s saying, but that’s okay, because it contributes to the atmosphere regardless.) When violin sounds are added, the song reaches a new level of awesomeness.
2. Latin Simone (English version) from G-Sides
“Latin Simone (¿Qué Pasa Contigo?)” is one of the most notable songs on Gorillaz due to its salsa-influenced sound and Spanish vocals from Ibrahim Ferrer of Buena Vista Social Club. The English version of the track, performed by 2D, can be found on G-Sides, and it’s a unique spin on the original that’s definitely worth listening to. Featuring the same memorable instrumentation and soft backing vocals but a new melody and new lyrics, it has just as many layers to peel back as the first did. 2D’s repeated moans of “What’s the matter with me?” solidify the song’s emotional impact.
3. Left Hand Suzuki Method from G-Sides (Japanese/U.K. version) and Gorillaz (U.S. version)
It’s a little hard to come by this song in America. It’s not on the U.S. version of G-Sides; Instead, it appeared as a bonus track on initial North American copies of their debut album, but it isn’t on streaming services as part of either album. It’s definitely worth looking around YouTube for, though. The pounding hip-hop beat, shouts of “Feel the impact!”, snippets of Japanese speech regarding the art of music, and of course, gorgeous violin playing make it a wild juxtaposition that sounds like the theme song for an action film about orchestra members who double as superheroes. You just might be inspired to pick up a string instrument after listening to this one.
4. All Alone from Demon Days
One of the best things about Demon Days is the intense atmosphere that makes it seem like the soundtrack for a journey with life-and-death stakes. “All Alone” nails this atmosphere perfectly. The song’s intro sets the tone with ambient noises, a collection of echoing, differently-pitched voices, and a darkly fantastic synth hook. Then the track turns into a reggae-tinged rap song that stays upbeat, but never loses its haunting urgency. When things take a cinematic turn and Martina Topley-Bird rises from the darkness to offer some words of hope, the song goes from impressive to phenomenal.
5. Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head from Demon Days
With a name like “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head,” it’s hard to believe that this song could fly under the radar. Alongside more popular tracks like “Feel Good Inc.”, “DARE,” and “Kids with Guns,” though, it tends to get overshadowed, which is a real shame. “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head” is not a run-of-the-mill song; it’s not even a run-of-the-mill Gorillaz song. It’s essentially a short story narrated by Dennis Hopper put to funky music and interrupted twice by ominous, prophetic-sounding singing from 2D. This story is not about literal fire coming out of a literal monkey’s head, but “the Happyfolk” and the invasion of their town by suspicious “Strangefolk,” who cause chaos when they disturb “the mountain called Monkey.” It’s just as effective as any of Aesop’s fables, but a lot groovier.
6. People from D-Sides
“People” is an early version of “DARE” that revolves around 2D, but it’s more than just that—it’s also a supremely fun song in its own right. Sure, it’s not quite as delightfully weird as “DARE,” but what it lacks in that aspect, it makes up for with its catchiness. With its sprightly techno sound and an upbeat chorus whose rhyme and repetition will stick in your head for hours, it would be perfect for singalongs, if only more people were aware of its existence.
7. Dirty Harry (Schtung Chinese New Year remix) from D-Sides
One of the best things about D-Sides is the gold mine of remixes it contains. Perhaps the most stellar of all these is the delightfully distinctive “Dirty Harry (Schtung Chinese New Year Remix).” If you’re wondering, Why is it called the Chinese New Year remix?, the answer is simple—traditional Chinese instrumentation has been added to the song, and all the original lyrics about the perils of warfare have been replaced with a chorus of children asking their parents for red packets of money in Mandarin. In theory, it shouldn’t work… but it’s Gorillaz, so of course it does.
8. Rhinestone Eyes from Plastic Beach
At one point, a fully animated “Rhinestone Eyes” music video was going to be made. In the end, only a storyboard video was released, leaving many fans downtrodden (particularly in the US, where it made the Top 40 of the Billboard Alternative Songs chart). Maybe it’s better this way, though. There’s a certain sense of mystery that surrounds the song now, adding to its allure. “Rhinestone Eyes” is definitely one of the strangest Gorillaz tracks, considering its nonchalant spoken-word verses from 2D and barrage of metaphors like “I’m a scary gargoyle on a tower” and “your rhinestone eyes are like factories far away.” At the same time, it just might be the most beautiful. Although it’s hard to guess exactly what it’s about, 2D’s sense of urgency is palpable and haunting, and every time the main synth melody kicks in, it’s impossible not to be drawn deeper into the song’s dramatic world.
9. Revolving Doors from The Fall
There’s no doubt that The Fall is the Gorillaz album surrounded by the least hype. Regarded as 2D’s musical tour diary during the Plastic Beach era rather than as a “phase” in and of itself, it tends to get nudged into a proverbial corner as “that weird Gorillaz album made on an iPad.” It has some true gems, though, for those willing to look past its experimental vibe—e.g. “Revolving Doors.” This track is magical in the same twinkly electronic way that many songs from Plastic Beach are, and deserves to be recognized as such. Full of hooks and reflective lyrics, it’ll make you both bob your head and take a moment to ponder.
10. Bobby in Phoenix from The Fall
“Bobby in Phoenix” is the last of Bobby Womack’s three collaborations with Gorillaz. The serene, glowing ballad serves as a wonderful reminder of the late singer’s impressive range and vocal expressiveness. In the pensive “Cloud of Unknowing,” Womack sang about how “the morning… may bring sunshine on its wings”; it’s heartwarming to see Womack finding that sunshine here.
Do you agree with our list? What are your favorite Gorillaz songs? Let us know in the comments!