Despite the admirable sentiment, Gorillaz's own political statement is sadly mixed and muddled in execution.
Despite being conceived as an MTV-mocking side-project from Blur frontman Damon Albarn and Tank Girl artist Jamie Hewlett, Gorillaz became a genuine cultural force in the ’00s, racking up wildly successful albums, singles and praise from critics and audiences. However, despite their ubiquity and success last decade, they have been absent for much of this one – amid rumours of tensions between musician/songwriter Albarn and artist/designer Hewlett, the two have since been returning to and embarking on numerous other projects instead, leaving The Fall, 2011’s lo-fi add-on to the Plastic Beach era, seemingly as their final studio album. Now, Gorillaz have returned to the fold with a new non-album track ahead of a record said to come later this year. While their return is certainly welcome, it’s hard to make out quite where they are going from here.
Written and released as a protest and comment upon the inauguration of Donald Trump, ‘Hallelujah Money’ is arguably the most overtly political track Albarn has produced thus far under the Gorillaz name. Emerging alongside other anti-Trump protest songs these past months (and indeed amongst a flurry of them last week alone), it struggles to find its footing in comparison to other artists’ offerings. Opening with a wash of off-kilter synths that recall The Fall, the song begins strongly with the voice of Benjamin Clementine, whose rich avant-pop baritone immediately commands attention. However, the song quickly loses its focus, lyrically offering interesting imagery – like the odd but intriguing “walls like unicorns” and “past the chemtrails” – that never coalesces into anything substantial, leading to a lengthy spoken word passage that unfortunately strays from meaningful protest and falls into silly pretension.
Albarn, in his guise of Gorillaz’s fictional frontman 2D, sings a few choruses through a vocal filter that, whilst beautifully and tenderly written, remain unmemorable and frankly a bit listless. Musically, the track also becomes increasingly cluttered: Albarn fills the song with barrages of chirpy synths, stiff beats, airy choirs, avant-garde sound effects, and more that threaten to completely overrun the track, swarming into a melange where Clementine’s crooning of the song’s title fights against more and more musical elements, collapsing into a seemingly out-of-place vocal sample from SpongeBob SquarePants and abrasive sound effects.
While the sentiment of the song is welcome and agreeable, its result is unfortunately a bundle of disparate and often seemingly random elements that never really come together cohesively. The song lacks the power and visceral nature of both the best of the recent anti-Trump songs (such as those by Fiona Apple or Sleater-Kinney) and indeed Gorillaz’s best work, and its cluttered messiness renders it a bit unmemorable and oddly dull. Considering the song’s music video, which is cleverly filmed in a Trump Tower lift but offers little in the way of clear visual imagery bar washes of lights, colours, and a shadow puppet of 2D to join Clementine’s often awkward expressions, it also questions what the revived Gorillaz actually is, with Hewlett’s role here seeming a bit unclear. Therefore, while it is exciting to see Albarn and Hewlett reactivate Gorillaz, it seems a bit unclear as to why: unfortunately, in the pantheon of great protest songs, ‘Hallelujah Money’ remains an odd and forgettable addition.