Pictures follow the review
Gorillaz - Rise Of The Ogre - the official autobiography
So Rise Of The Ogre is finally here, one half of the releases that mark the end of Gorillaz phase two, and a summary of Gorillaz' career so far.
In a hard cover, attractive dust jacket and with 300 glossy pages, presentation-wise it's impeccable. Whilst not every single picture Gorillaz have ever released appears here, almost every one does, and there are pages and pages of new and exclusive, full-quality Gorillaz artwork. Jamie Hewlett and his design team must have been working hard on this for some time. The new art is complemented by many exclusive photos from live gigs, rehearsals, recording sessions and video shoots. The appeal of Jamie's work is direct and immediate, and to have the bulk of his work for the Gorillaz project collected in one place for the first time would make this book worth the asking price alone.
The book is a self-styled autobiography by the fictional Gorillaz bandmembers 2D, Murdoc, Noodle and Russel. As well as the pictures there is plenty of text as well. The main thrust of the narrative is provided by quotes from each member, plus occasional explanatory text. Just as the Gorillaz interview and press material has always been, this is a mix of fact and fiction. Fans will no doubt thrill to read about the childhoods of each member and their lives before joining Gorillaz, but as the book reaches the years of the first Gorillaz releases, then we're given facts and figures about record sales, recording sessions and live dates and quotes from actual press reviews, that are true facts about how the Gorillaz project evolved and was received. Never does the mask slip though - co-creators Hewlett and Albarn are always intefering so-and-sos trying to claim the credit for the band's work, and co-creators work and play with the fictional foursome themselves as opposed to those who were in fact pulling the strings.
Despite this, along with the smattering of new insider information, there are quotes from new interviews with Jamie Hewlett and some members of the production team which reveal just a little bit more about the workings of the band. Occasionally one is able to see the fact within the fiction too, such as the basically factual accounts of the filming of the Dirty Harry video, and the recording session with D-12. Most importantly though, it's perfectly natural that the fictional band should have chosen to release their own autobiography. The text is written by Gorillaz live drummer Cass Browne, who has written the majority of the Gorillaz dialogue since the start of the project. Over the years, the characters have developed their own strong personalities which Cass lets shine here with flair. To be sure, the author is no Neil Gaiman - this is no multi-faceted, many-arced work of literature. But when was that ever the point of Gorillaz in the first place? Since the begninning their story has been limited to a few pages of press release material, augmented by amusing anecdotes and humorous, quotable quips in interview. The real story of the band has always been their achievements in the real world - and quite intentionally so. And it would be uncharitable to describe the bandmembers' stories and chatter as 'throwaway' in any case. They're frequently amusing and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. For true fans, there are almost guaranteed to be tears of laughter at some points - Cass has obviously been following the fan community to some degree, so we're treated to stories of how 2D gained (and lost) the 'Tusspot' name, details of Paula's drug addiction, and are spared nothing of Murdoc's sordid upbringing. And along the way various loose ends - such as the 'true' story of Dr.Wurzel, and the El Manana video, are cleared up as well.
The only respect in which the book actually fails is in its attempts to to offer a serious analysis or some perspective on the Gorillaz project itself. We are told how Gorillaz redefined the musical landscape and that they represent the best of how creativity in this new digital age. These are statements which may very well be true but the account presented here - couched as it is in terms of the story of the fictional band - lacks the resources, the conceptual framework, that would be required for such a task, which would have to be done at one remove from the characters' perspetive. Taken as a whole, the text of the book tells the basic story of the Gorillaz project, and the story of the band members, and it does so with a great deal of humour, through four entertaining and likeable characters. But a full evaluation of Gorillaz' significance must be carried out elsewhere.
All in all - Gorillaz' 'Rise Of The Ogre' is a beautifully presented and lavishly illustrated book that manages to be an art book and tell an interesting and entertaining story at the same time. A fitting tribute to the first two phases of the career of the world's most successful virtual band, and highly recommended.
Scanned pictures from the book. Click a thumbnail to bring up the picture in a new window.