God “Clint Eastwood” was a cool song. With the digital revolution still fermenting and mainstream radio sliding inexorably down the crapper, Del the Funkee Homosapian prowled the ever-decaying alt rock airwaves to convince my angst-ridden, 7th grade self that he could make it all manageable. Sure, Damon Albarn sounded as if he really needed a Kleenex, and that always kinda bothered me. But who needs Kleenex when they’ve got sunshine in a bag, whatever the hell that meant? (Not drugs, to my 7th grade self.) And it didn't bother the ex-Blur front man, whose pop-friendly negotiation of electronica and hip-hop was something of a revelation for mainstream listeners slow to jump on (or too young to remember) the mid-90s trip-hop bandwagon.
There are no such revelations on D-Sides, whose epic runtime is a reminder that while Gorillaz were once indispensable, it’s now difficult to justify another 150 minutes of them. They might have broken new ground for a generation of cloistered mainstream music fans, but they’re disappointingly pedestrian upon review—take compilation opener “68 State”, a repetitive, barely danceable 90s leftover whose signature whooshing sound effect seems as though it was lifted straight out of Aphex Twin.
Which is not to say that D-Sides lacks its high points: “We Are Happy Landfill” is better than most of the stuff on Demon Days and Gorillaz, and finds Albarn at his funky, exuberant best. He does a weirdly appealing Thom Yorke impression on zither-infused “Hong Kong”; meanwhile, the words for “Hong Kong” reappear on infections electro-reggae groove “Hongkongaton”. But D-Sides is overwhelmingly long, and by the time the 12-minute remix of “Dare” on disc two rolls around, I doubt that any but the most die-hard of Gorillaz fans will be able to stand much more. And while there are a few spectacular exceptions, as well as some interesting Danger Mouse and Hot Chip-produced remixes, most of D-Sides is neither remarkable nor new. And with few of the brilliant, jolting studies in musical contrasts that made Gorillaz such a cultural event to begin with, there’s little to tell us that we aren’t just listening to a self-indulgent “virtual” cartoon band vanity project.