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Gorillaz 

Gorillaz (Virgin)

Gorillaz, the latest collaborative group assembled by hip-hop producer Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, comes on the heels of last year's stellar sci-fi outfit Deltron 3030, which featured Nakamura, turntable wizard Kid Koala, and rapper Del the Funky Homosapien. Nakamura, who has also collaborated with Prince Paul in the Handsome Boy Modeling School and Kool Keith in his Dr. Octagon phase, has teamed with Blur frontman Damon Albarn this time around to produce an album about a fiendish yet campy cartoon musical act that's brought to life by Tank Girl artist Jamie Hewlett, who has designed the sleeve and booklet with caricatures of the members.

The animated group's first single, "Clint Eastwood," is a sinister Jamaican/dub slacker ballad that pits Albarn against Del. The song, which has an unlisted two-step remix hidden on the disc, encapsulates the album's prankish fusion of hip-hop and alt-rock with style. In that vein, "Re-Hash" also struts a deft drum groove, then layers acoustic guitars to create a sound you could call "Blurred Beck." Slowing things down, "Tomorrow Comes Today" pairs hip-hop beats and harmonica with Albarn's melancholy warble, creating a doleful, slice-of-life tune. But it isn't long before the album's hip-hop synthesis lapses and the disc slips into mediocrity. Between the pointless noise of "Punk" and "M1 A1," the silly game show skit in "Rock the House," and the formulaic pop melody of "Slow Country," Gorillaz loses its appeal. Not even the Mouse on Mars-type instrumental "Double Bass" or the sly grooves of "Latin Simone," which features a cameo by the Buena Vista Social Club's Ibrahim Ferrer, can sustain the album. Although not as refined as Nakamura's earlier efforts, Gorillaz succeeds in sounding futuristic and adventurous, but less marketing and more musical finesse would have yielded better results.

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