There’s a peculiarly English criticism that’s often been levelled at Damon Albarn: “Too clever for his own good.” Its roots lie in the belief that somebody who thinks they know a lot will make errors based on their arrogance. These days, it’s frequently used by someone whose self-assumed superiority is threatened by another’s intelligence. The aim – to use another equally loaded phrase – is simply “to bring them down a peg or two”.

Albarn’s middle-class upbringing provoked suspicion right from the early days of Blur, but rarely more than during the era which saw them pitted against Oasis, when his background was used to suggest inauthenticity.

Yet he’s kept plugging away regardless, his confidence in his own prolific talent at times alienating, at others validating, but almost always justified. Such disparagement, therefore, seems beside the point.

Some, of course, will find a way to argue that his decision to hide behind Gorillaz colleague Jamie Hewlett’s animated caricatures is yet another display of hubris. Occasionally – especially when their records overflow with celebrity guests – this might seem fair. But The Now Now is Gorillaz’ most unpretentious, least ostentatious release yet, with just George Benson providing graceful guitar licks on the seductively laid-back Humility, and Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle adding their voices to the curiously haunting Hollywood’s wobbly, acid house vibes.

Elsewhere, with Albarn’s slightly distorted voice at its most vulnerable – as though singing through a layer of gauzy surgical dressing – the intimate Idaho finds him drifting towards nature amid a quiet backing of acoustic guitars and lullaby-friendly synths, and the closing Souk Eye adds an air of poignancy with subdued hints of the Pet Shop Boys. However, the simplicity of Lake Zurich’s electro-pop and Fire Flies’ almost limping lethargy underline how the album was constructed in just a month. The Now Now is probably the most human record Gorillaz have made, and it’s all the better for it. So yeah: Damon Albarn’s pretty clever. Get over it, why don’t you?

Review: Gorillaz - The Now Now

Written by Wyndham Wallace. Released on Parlophone.

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