The first album to début in my Tergiversate music column isn’t a new album, but it’s an album with a meaning that evolves and changes over time into something new. Demon Days is the second studio album released by Gorillaz in 2005. Demon Days is officially classified as alternative hip hop, but it’s better described as a fusion of styles and genres, rolled together. Some tracks hang true to the underground hip hop sounds from the first album, others to a pop-ish sound found in their third album, and others are completely unique to Demon Days.
Why Demon Days?
Demon Days has a sentimental value to me. When I was younger, a close friend gifted me a copy of the album on CD, marking the first physical piece of music merchandise in my collection. Ever since the first CD, my collection has expanded across many artists, genres, and mediums, from CDs, to 7″ and 12″ vinyl records, and even a signed brick (a story to save for another time).
More importantly, Gorillaz represents a distinct departure in my music listening habits from my youth. Gorillaz opened my perspective to new sounds and genres, and the diverse range of sounds that Damon Albarn uses in the Gorillaz albums helped me discover new music. Gorillaz is the root of my independent music discovery, when I began to explore the rich palettes of sound, passion, and insight that music offers.
Even though Demon Days was the first album that felt like my own finding, its meaning and purpose have grown with me over time. Every year, there’s a period of my life where I find the album on repeat, or I’ll suddenly realize that I need to listen to a very specific song from the album immediately. I departed from other artists and albums from my youth, but Demon Days is one that clings on with a contemporary relevance, captures my imagination, and fills my heart with hope.
Thus, no other album felt worthy of receiving the title of “first” in this series.
The album sits at a pivotal moment in human history: the dawn of the 21st century is still breaking. A world of technology begins to immerse our culture, the world is at a war with questionable purpose, and an air of suspense hangs above for the thoughtful philosopher.
Damon Albarn attacks this moment in a poetic and creative genius that addresses four themes, but doesn’t paint a picture of despair. The four themes, as aptly detailed by the Demon Days Wikia page, are…
- Desensitizing children / the innocent
- The Iraq war
- Environmental damage
- Defacement of mass culture
Unlike the earlier album, this album marks the beginning of a new era for Damon Albarn and Gorillaz. Albarn’s music reaches a new level of maturity that was not as present in previous works.
Another analysis of the album from Reddit pins a deep insight into the meaning of the album. One exceptional excerpt from that thread:
Within this album, which is a popular music album, Damon spins a soundscape which explores the world in true existential crisis and tries, genuinely tries, to instruct the listener towards a positive outlook. It is unflinchingly hateful and rejecting of the forces at work which prevent personal growth and one by one exposes the Orwellian nightmare of living under a violent government and an apathetic society.
Perhaps the most powerful part of Demon Days is its composition as a singular unit. While many of the songs stand up on their own as mainstream singles, the album is best received as the sum of its parts. Albarn described the album in an interview as a story that takes the listener through the night. Intro sets the tone at the beginning of the darkness, and the self-titled track at the end paints a bright, luminescent color for the album.
The ending of the album remains the most powerful part of the album for me, particularly Don’t Get Lost in Heaven and Demon Days. The album deals with themes of a world in decline. It is not discreet in its implied meaning and Albarn offers his perspective on the pitfalls that humanity sets for itself.
Yet, the ending of the album isn’t a reflection on the hateful, spiteful, and damaging parts of society and culture.
The ending reminds the listener of the breaking rays of sunlight, cutting through the darkness of the night. In line with its storyline of journeying through the night and facing different demons, the album closes itself with a positive picture of hope, love, and inspiration. I believe Albarn was aware that the message of urgency and themes of darkness in other songs from the album were difficult to swallow. But he was acutely aware that the embers of hope and love should never be extinguished if these demons of the world are to be overcome.
The ending of the album is what took me through 2017. One of the highlights of my year was seeing Gorillaz live in Chicago in July, as they started their international tour for the Humanz album. I was speechless and filled with a boundless joy when the concert ended with Don’t Get Lost in Heaven and Demon Days. These two songs aged and were reborn with new meaning and passion for the world we explore in 2017 and beyond. I’ve felt that for some time, but seeing Gorillaz perform at their first show in years and also ending with these songs? It only confirmed this resolve in meaning to me.
Where to find Demon Days
If you only know some of the singles from the album, or if you have never listened at all, please consider a full listen from top to bottom. Some albums can be enjoyed in pieces, but Demon Days is a package deal, and it offers the most when it’s listened to in a single, immersive experience.
Curious where the name “Tergiversate” came from? Check out the dictionary definition.