Early last decade, the art-pop collective known as Gorillaz was considered a silly novelty. They're literally a cartoon band, after all. Since then, the project, created by Blur frontman Damon Albarn and "Tank Girl" animator Jamie Hewlett in 1998, has become very real. Real in the sense they've sold millions of records, but more so in that each album has further legitimized the artistic merit of Gorillaz.
Gimmicks don't headline Coachella and England's gargantuan Glastonbury Festival; gimmicks don't shred with Lou Reed and Mos Def at Madison Square Garden. Gorillaz have done all that in 2010, a year that also saw their third LP, "Plastic Beach," meet high praise. With high stock, a sprawling live act and a touring band that includes De La Soul and half of the Clash, Gorillaz will play their first ever Twin Cities gig this Sunday at Target Center. The "Clint Eastwood" and "Feel Good Inc." hitmakers aren't an ironic Josie and the Pussycats -- they're the sum of Albarn's mad-scientist impulses, and they're legitimate pop stars.
Your typical pretty-boy frontman, the hollow-eyed 2-D is known for his bluish emo coif and crippling fear of whales. In reality: Damon Albarn. Enjoyed massive popularity throughout the '90s fronting the Oasis-feuding, Britpop-pioneering group Blur. Colliding genres and collaborators into Gorillaz has occupied the last decade for Albarn.
The smarmy, ambitious and deeply flawed leader of Gorillaz. In reality: Paul Simonon, the bassist/founding member of punk deities the Clash.
A bulky and well-educated hip-hopper from the United States, Russel is the rock of the group. Oh, he's also demonically possessed. In reality: Cass Browne, who drummed for U.K. punks Senseless Things in the '80s and '90s and has manned the kit for Gorillaz since the group's impetus.
A diminutive Japanese orphan, Noodle provides the group's guitars and occasional female vocals. In reality: Jeff Wootton/Mick Jones. Wootton is a member of U.K. indie-rockers the Black Marquee. Jones was the guitarist and intermittent frontman for the Clash.
- Notable guests: Del the Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automator.
- Peak U.S. chart position: 14.
- Metacritic score: 71
Damon Albarn's eager foray from Blur's Britpop into trip-hop, dub and electronica influences. The single "Clint Eastwood" propelled an LP that was scattered, but weighted by Albarn's pristine pop sensibilities.
'DEMON DAYS' (2005)
- Notable guests: De La Soul, Danger Mouse, MF Doom, Dennis Hopper.
- Peak U.S. chart position: 6.
- Metacritic score: 82.
The Danger Mouse-produced sophomore effort trended darker with Albarn's melancholia never halting the immense Gorillaz pop animal. Hit single "Feel Good Inc." powered the record to new chart heights.
'PLASTIC BEACH' (2010)
- Notable guests: Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, De La Soul, Bobby Womack, Lou Reed, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon.
- Peak U.S. chart position: 2.
- Metacritic score: 77.
Albarn cements his status as a pop maestro as he ably directs a heavy concept (a polluted world in decay) and a massive cast of collaborators. The bleakness quotient continues to rise with "Plastic Beach," but this is dark art that's also unfailingly fun, danceable and beautiful.
What to expect on Sunday
The Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour is Gorillaz' first in the flesh. Previously the group hid behind a screen that projected their digital counterparts, but Albarn and Co. are taking the stage as themselves this go-round. A projection screen scrawled with Hewlett's art/multimedia/visuals remains, but most eyes will be on the massive cavalcade of Gorillaz players.
We'll likely get a nice grab-bag of special guests: rappers De La Soul, soul legend Bobby Womack and former Clash men Jones and Simonon (in sailor outfits, no less!). Will Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed or Mos Def make an appearance? Not likely, but space will be at a premium with a brass band, string section and an Arabic music ensemble all littering the stage.
If East Coast reviews are any indication, Gorillaz' first Twin Cities jaunt should be a treat. The nautically themed affair is garnering plenty of good press, with a New York Times write-up dubbing it "one big dystopian dance party."