It's only recently that Gorillaz announced plans for a third album. Not long before that they had said there'd only be a soundtrack to a still unrealised movie. Regardless the guys who are Gorillaz, musician Damon Albarn and artist/illustrator Jamie Hewlett, have been busy with their east/west collaboration, the circus opera Monkey: Journey to the West.
This show looks spectacular and I'd love to see it, but no chance as yet as its handful of performances have been on different continents to where I live. I have to be content with the fairly detailed website and the album called Journey to the West by Monkey. I do like the music but I have to admit that I had to first veer away from my expectations of it being a Gorillaz style album. You can hear Gorillaz in the music the same way you can hear Blur in Gorillaz. You can hear it's the music of Damon Albarn, but he's worked to his brief. This is a score to a western influenced Chinese opera. It's a soundtrack. So after the third listen and after I had cleared my head of prejudice I quite warmed to it and now indulge in the playfulness and subtlety, those Chinese influences mixed with contemporary styles that at times felt like Phillip Glass did a score for a martial arts epic.
However, even though I really like the music, it still sounds like the score to a film or, in this case, a live show, one I'd really like to see. Stills and movies of the actual performances look wonderful and I wouldn't hesitate buying a ticket if it headed my way. Not just cause like Damon Albarn's music but because I'm a big cheesy fan of the 1978 series often referred to as Monkey Magic! Plus I have affection for the original novel by Wu Cheng'en first published way back in 1590, although I admit to only reading the very accessable, condensed version titled Monkey as translated by Arthur Waley, not the full four volume edition known as Journey to the West.
But all this is only half of what got me enthused about this whole project. The other half is Jamie Hewlett. I've been a fan of his art since Tank Girl and gladly admit that the images and animation of Gorillaz sucked me in before the music did. The Gorillaz art book Rise of the Ogre was nice indeed, but I wanted more Hewlett. With Monkey: Journey to the West he doesn't disappoint as I find his interpretation pretty nice. You can see some of it in the beautiful packaging of the CD and plenty on the website. I have a Hewlett image of Monkey and Tripitaka in a Chinese landscape of rocky pillars as my background. But still I want more than these tantalizing images and teasing animations, especially the BBC commissioned piece for their Olympics broadcast.
So I'm hoping that Hewlett will expand it to an art book or a DVD of the performance with the accompanying animations is one day released. My money is one or the other, but it could be some time away. In the meantime, we'll soon be seeing Hewlett's tweaking of the Tank Girl universe, but I'll get to that when the time comes. And I hope someone at Penguin realises that the current covers for the novel could do with a redesign and ask Hewlett to slap The Great Sage on it