Without a doubt, the hot gadget for 2010 was the iPad. Apple seems to have a monopoly lately on must-own items, and many a person will testify to the high quality and innovation the company consistently strives toward. Good for them, they’re probably doing more good than harm with their products, even if a tablet computer such as an iPad doesn’t have the processing power of your average laptop and has a tendency to break if you drop it from a countertop. Those things are inconsequential, because it’s cool, and the apps created for it allow you to do cool things. Case in point, whilst on tour in North America for 32 days this past fall, Damon Albarn wrote and composed 15 new Gorillaz songs using his iPad as the primary tool and musical instrument for the entire thing. It’s an impressive feat in and of itself, particularly because it sounds as good as a record made the traditional way, in a studio with industry standards such as ProTools or GarageBand. Released this past Christmas Day as a free download for fan club members ONLY (it only costs…$45 for a year’s subscription), “The Fall” is the official title of this iPad-made album. It may not boast the extensive list of guest stars and dramatic orchestral moments, but it remains a Gorillaz album through and through, with plenty of electro-pop style, found sound samples, and anchored by Albarn’s vocals.
Going purely by the song titles, you can tell that “The Fall” was a record composed on a journey across America. Over half the titles reference cities or states, and according to the album liner notes they were all recorded in those locations (see: “Shy-Town” in Chicago, “Amarillo” in Amarillo, etc). It’s not fair to say the actual music embodies the spirits of each city in which they were recorded, but that might be a product of how Damon Albarn views them anyways. If that’s the case, either the weather turning colder or perhaps road weariness may have affected Albarn’s mood as this isn’t the most upbeat Gorillaz record by any means. It’s often slow and lacks some of the pop edge that’s generated the cartoon band’s singles these past few years. The lack of any hip hop on this album is also an issue, though to be completely fair it’s not like you can get all your rap buddies to come out and record something with you as you tour around the country. In place of much of that are various natural sound samples that were recorded in locations around the country, from flipping around Texas radio stations to a forest and stream in Santa Fe to a loudspeaker announcement at an Los Angeles train station. Hell, the last track, “Seattle Yodel” is just a store-bought “yodeling pickle” (which you can buy online as well) held up to a microphone. At the very least these natural sounds make for something different outside of the iPad-crafted beats and the actual instruments that do pop up very infrequently. It’s definitely enough to leave you wondering whether you can call this even a legitimate Gorillaz album if Albarn is virtually the only person composing most of these songs.
While “The Fall” may have its issues, it may also be a little unfair to judge it harshly. First off, the method of distribution exclusively via the band’s fan club seems to suggest that this wasn’t intended to be heard by the masses or in the hope of spawning a radio hit. The only way non-fan club members can get their hands on this record is either by streaming it via the band’s website or pirating a copy. Secondly, writing and recording such an album over 32 days while in the middle of a tour that offers loads of distractions isn’t the way that 98% of bands operate, mostly out of fear what they come up with will be a crap product. Thirdly, to limit yourself and to base an entire record on what you can do with a bunch of iPad applications and a couple instruments is a challenge and a half in and of itself. The liner notes list all 20 iPad applications, along with the couple of actual instruments used to create everything you hear on “The Fall”, to the point where you could make this whole record over on your own should you be so inspired. That nobody has put out a legitimate iPad-recorded album prior to now really also shows how forward-thinking and brilliant Damon Albarn really is. While you were busy playing the latest edition of “Angry Birds” he was writing and composing music. Were he to allow himself more time and resources you can probably assume this record would have been a lot better and a lot more upbeat/fun. Eh, that’s probably the plan for the next, fully legitimate release from the band. So instead of being great “The Fall” is merely good, though better than might otherwise be expected. It’s not worth paying for a fan club membership just to own it, but if you really love Gorillaz and want to take advantage of more than just this exclusive music (a lithograph, webstore discount, ticket presales, streaming live videos, etc), perhaps the Sub Division is for you.