If you knew nothing of The Fall, your initial criticism would most likely be that it sounds like something Damon Albarn made on an iPad while biding his time on a post-show tour bus. Ironically, the absolute truth in that statement seems to give this album a mass of validity. Originally released last Christmas as a free download off the band's website, the sparse beats and minimal production seemed directed solely to the dedicated fan-base. However, with the recent physical release, it appears Albarn has determined these tunes worthy of official inclusion in the Gorillaz pantheon -- where they unfortunately fall far short of the sonic brilliance of their brethren. If you go into this album anticipating anything close to the vast landscapes crafted on previous discs, you'll be enormously disappointed. If you accept it for what it is right from the get-go though, you'll find a solid stack of background tracks for your glitch-drift playlist.
Suffering from severe hook-deprivation, at least half of these tracks get lost within electro-echoes of one another. Sure, it's cool to hear the synth-winds in "Shytown" or the 50's machinery of the industrialized dream in "Detroit," but the novelty of referential titles is quickly lost in an all-too-recurrent dance-beat. It does however, add an individualized strength to some of the slower tracks and draw them closer to your ear's spotlight. "Revolving Doors" centers on a cycling acoustic guitar riff and Albarn's gentle, eerie vocals, and would have fit in nicely anywhere on the second half of 2010's Plastic Beach. "Little Plastic Bags" imparts an opiated bliss in much the same fashion, and contains the album's most self-referential metaphor: "They're just little plastic bags floating on the highway/They don't know where they're going/They're just gonna float up." Either that or he just wrote about the first thing he saw out the bus window that night.
There are three different songs about Texas -- one that suffers dearly from lack of extra production, one that is desperately crying for Del to rap over the top of, and one that finds its ideal pocket in the lofty space-drift: "The Parish of Space Dust," "The Snake in Dallas," and "Amarillo." What's the lesson learned here? No album ever needs more than one song about Texas on it. "Hillbilly Man" serves as the prime example of The Fall's other underlying flaw, which is the blatant need for instrumentation other than what is found in the sample bank on Garage Band. The psychedelic whisps of past album tracks come off as too formulaic here and things begin to bleed together into a new realm of redundancy. The structure for a really good Gorillaz song is here, but the time and wit needed for it to develop is obviously not. It's like trying to make a grilled cheese with bread, butter, garlic, a hot stovetop and pan, but not having the cheese. Usually something comes oozing out through the cracks when Albarn uses everything in his arsenal, and some of these tracks were thusly deserving of a better attack than what occurred with the weapons provided.
On the other hand, "Bobby in Phoenix" is a prime example of working with what you got -- an acoustic blues with a few synth overlays, and Bobby Whitlock crooning of how easy the air is to breathe in Arizona: "Let's talk about feeeeeeenix." There aren't enough of these moments on The Fall though, and that's tough coming from a band with rarely skippable tracks. There's no doubt the story behind its creation is cool, there's some good songs, and that Damon Albarn is a ridiculously talented artist. But when it comes down to Gorillaz, you want the whole fucking production. This band has always been something way bigger than itself, and this is just a little too humanizing for the legacy of the world's most successful virtual band.