Quite interesting, incidentally …
I have been a keen advoate of all things Damon Albarn post-Graham Coxon (i.e., Blur’s ‘Think Tank‘ and beyond) so was understandably quite excited by the album release of ‘Monkey, Journey to the West‘. I had not seen the Chinese opera-spectacular which this album scores but I didn’t let that dissuade me from pre-ordering this one from Amazon. What I hadn’t realised was that this 22-song collection largely comprises incidental compositions from the opera and doesn’t stand up as an album in its own right. Unless you have seen the opera – in which case this might make a compelling souvenir – I feel duty-bound to warn you not to expect something on the scale of other Albarn side-projects such as Gorillaz’ ‘Demon Days‘, ‘Mali Music‘ or ‘The Good, the Bad and the Queen‘.
There are handfull of lovely individual songs – particularly the Himalayan Kate Bushisms of ‘Heavenly Peach Blanket’ – but the majority are sonic doodles of varying interest. Predominantly comprising synths and drum machines, fleshed out with guitar, harp and strings, some are diverting enough – even narrational – in their own right, but most score some unseen action intelligable only to those who have seen the production. The effect is sometimes frustratingly akin to being stuck in a theatre foyer ticketless while the action gets underway without you in the audience. And unlike a traditional opera, the music seems rather secondary – or at least only complementary to – the action on stage, rather than the other way around. As a souvenir, it’s an attractive package, but I’ve never been a fan of Jamie Hewlett’s artwork – Gorillaz for me was always just about the music.