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In this day of manufactured boy bands prancing around in matching designer wear, Gorillaz takes the concept of constructed image to the next level -- that is, to the virtual world. The cartoon character- based band -- helmed by Damon Albarn (Blur's clever, clever pretty boy) and Jamie Hewlett (creator of Tank Girl) -- takes the Blur frontman's newfound love of edgy, lo-fi melodies and artfully blends them with old-school hip-hop beats and witty if somewhat silly lyrics.

The cast of characters includes Kid Koala, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien (as Russel, the heavyset drummer possessed by funky phantom rappers), Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori (as Noodle, a ten-year-old martial arts expert and guitarist), cult cartoonist Hewlett (as Murdoc, bassist and Satan-worshiping mastermind of the group), and Albarn (as 2D, the spacey but cute singer-keyboardist) and is produced by Dan "the Automator" Nakamura. With influences ranging from Jamaican dub to American hip-hop, London punk, and dance, Gorillaz, on their self-titled debut album, are not afraid to demonstrate their playfulness and passion for experimentation. An added surprise is the contribution of Buena Vista Social Club's Ibrahim Ferrer on the Cuban love song "Latin Simone."

There's a dark element to Gorillaz, but the band's gleeful spirits shine through, especially on its first single, "Clint Eastwood." The infectious song features 2D's slurred voice interrupted by Russel's rhymes, a bluesy harmonica, and hopeful message: "I ain't happy, I'm feeling glad/I got sunshine, in a bag/I'm useless, but not for long/The future is coming on." Could this be the future of manufactured pop bands? Let's hope so.


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