In new Gorillaz album, dark political vision comes true

Nicolas PRATVIEL
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British singer-songwriter Damon Albarn performs on stage with his band "Gorillaz" on November 22, 2010 at the Zenith music hall in Paris

Creating the latest album of his virtual band Gorillaz, Damon Albarn had what he considered a dark, sci-fi vision -- Donald Trump as president of the United States. Then it came true.

"I wanted to make a kind of science fiction record. But more a social fiction, sort of anticipation," said the Britpop icon best known as the frontman of Blur.

"There were several options and I chose the worst case scenario," he told AFP over a meal on a visit to Paris. "I wanted to make a social fiction record, but reality hit."

Gorillaz has been an outlet for Albarn's more experimental side, breaking free from guitar pop to explore trippy, futuristic sounds. Created in 2001, Gorillaz is a virtual band with four fictional members -- 2D, Murdoc, Russel and Noodle.

The real-life, but behind-the-scenes, members are Albarn and the comic book artist Jamie Hewlett, who has matched the music with an elaborate visual representation that includes cartoon videos.

Preparing "Humanz," the group's fifth album which came out on Friday, Albarn started in 2015 by imagining the United States ruled by Trump, then considered a reality television celebrity with little chance of landing the world's most powerful job.

"I did not believe Trump would be president, but I wanted to imagine what would happen," Albarn said.

- 'Joyful and painful' -

Albarn reached out for American voices to create the album, including Mavis Staples, the classic R&B singer and civil rights activist, as well as hip-hop pioneers De La Soul, the rapper Pusha T and the innovative R&B artist Kelela.

With an underlying chaos that evokes the film scores of Ennio Morricone, of whom Albarn is an admirer, "Humanz" also has songs co-written by artists ranging from electronic legend Jean-Michel Jarre to fellow Britpop star Noel Gallagher.

"I kinda wanted it to be something urgent, and joyful and painful at the same time," Albarn said of the album, which transformed into an exploration of the reaction to Trump's shock victory.

"Hallelujah Money," a trip-hop-infused single with the powerful voice of Mercury Prize-winning singer Benjamin Clementine, attacks the power of money without naming the president directly, although the video showed an elevator in a representation of his Trump Tower home.

The song gives way to an antidote in the album's final track, "We Got the Power," a call to love and unity.

"It's a simple answer, I know, but it is probably the truth, especially now," Albarn said of the closing song.

"You know I can't resent the people who made this choice," he said, referring both to supporters of Trump and, in his own country, the narrow majority that voted to pull Britain from the European Union.

- 'You're gonna be dead' -

Albarn is passionate when discussing Brexit, saying, "You can't imagine how depressing it is for us."

"It's hard to express how angry I am," he said.

"People who voted Brexit, as with American people who voted for Trump, are people who don't travel," he said. "They're blind! Genuinely blind! They genuinely think that closing borders and becoming nationalistic is a really good idea."

"I don't want the next generations to grow up having less access to the world," he said. "We're a little island. A little island must be open."

"The people who voted for this are the old. What are you doing? Voting for your grandchildren's future? You're gonna be dead in 10 years! Dead!"

His anger subsided as he gazed down at a plate that had just been put in front of him. On it were two soft-boiled eggs surrounded by slices of smoked salmon on a bed of arugula.

"I have never seen eggs presented like that in my life. Have you?" he said with a laugh.

"It's quite artistic -- science fiction," he said. "I should have stated a story with that."