By Robert Garcia | Contributing Writer
Since early 2016, rumors began to circulate that the Gorillaz were back in the studio. In October, the band started releasing digital stories following each of their characters in a publicity campaign. On the eve of Inauguration Day, lead vocalist Damon Albarn ended their six-year hiatus when he released a music video for “Hallelujah Money (feat. Benjamin Clementine).” Just like that, the virtual band was back.
The opening notes of “Hallelujah Money” sound like a mix made for the likes of Tyler the Creator and the Odd Future Collective. Twenty seconds in, however, the sounds of Benjamin Clementine’s low, crooning vocals take over and the track becomes one only the Gorillaz could produce. Featuring samples of wailing choirs and echoing drums laden with English trip hop, the track follows the train of thought presented in “The Fall,” their last studio album. The sound is harsh and epic while still managing to channel the wide variety of stylistic influences that the group has become famous for.
In terms of lyrical content, the song is a Trump diss-track. Clementine’s booming voice on such lines as “Walls like unicorns,” “even stronger than the walls of Jericho,” and the rapturous “Hallelujah Money” creates an aura of despair. Damon Albarn’s soft-sung “How will we know? When the morning comes?” cuts between the apocalyptic sermon to pose questions in his trademark, melancholy timbre. At the bridge, Clementine shows off his poetic ability in a spoken word break that reassures the listener “if this be the end, so shall it be.” In case anyone was still unconvinced, the track abruptly ends with a sample from the American hero Spongebob Squarepants crying after Mr. Krabs tells him, “You’re fired.”
The video is visually stunning as Clementine stares wild-eyed directly into the camera while a seemingly random stream of images flash behind him. Repeating clips of a smiling Clint Eastwood reappear as dancing geishas, burning landscapes, and the shadow of Albarn’s character 2D are projected onscreen. There seems to be no order to the random coalescence of images, but they all reflect a chaotic tone.
Despite the satisfaction of diehard fans, responses to the song were mixed. Many people were taken aback by the minimal instrumentation and the unorthodox song structure. An important element of any Gorillaz song, however, lays in its relation to the album as a complete body of work. Although some of their songs can be successful as singles many are too experimental to be digested as such. “Hallelujah Money” may be an instance of a track that is just not easily accessible.
No one is quite sure what is in store for this next album. The Gorillaz have always made social commentary through their music, but never so overt as in their latest single. With a staggering list of features ranging from rap crew De la Soul to Snoop Dogg, there are high hopes for the Gorillaz’ long-awaited return.