2) There's a little interview with Damon in Spanish about Monkey and other things here including a picture. Damon was in Spain to guest in Toumani Diabaté's set at the Expo Zaragoza.
3) There's a great new Monkey art picture from Jamie and a small article in this week's NME magazine. Check out the scan by clicking Read More below.
4) The magazines Mojo and Q have reviewed the Monkey record, check out their reviews online by clicking the following links:- Q magazine / Mojo magazine
5) Download a new audio interview with Damon and Jamie about Monkey from Rapidshare here it's a recording of their ten minute interview with 'Front Row', the main BBC Radio 4 arts programme (7th August, 7.15pm) (thanks to fairycake!).
MONKEY IN THE NME THIS WEEK
MONKEY IN THE OBSERVER - THANKS TO BEATFLOH FOR THE SCANS
Journey To The West
THERE ARE THOSE who would be overjoyed to see Damon Albarn end up with
egg on his face over Monkey. This is not so much the fault of Monkey.
The same people would be sneakily praying for Damon to come a cropper
whatever he did - if that were a choral requiem for Tuvan throat singers
or something as meekly orthodox as reforming Blur.
The unpleasant subtext is not the kneejerk Albarn-bashing (after all, he
brings some of this on himself) but the idea that there is something
inherently pretentious - rather than sensibly cosmopolitan - about an
interest in the music of other countries or cultures. Journey To The
West is a collection of music composed for an "opera", featuring Chinese
actor-singers singing entirely in Mandarin, commissioned for the
Manchester International Festival in 2007 and subsequently performed in
Paris, Charleston and London. But exactly how daunting a prospect this
need be considered is moot.
One: it's not as if Monkey's target audience have never trooped into a
Chinese martial arts movie (even Nuts readers have seen one of those) or
bought a world music record. Two: the story - uppity monkey-god,
imprisoned by Buddha, seeks redemption by joining boy-priest's quest to
recover sacred texts - is as ingrained, via the BBC's early-'80s
screening of the Japanese-made TV series, in the hearts and minds of
Brits of-a-vintage as are The Wombles.
Granted, calling the thing an "opera" sets the snob alarm a-clanging.
Yet, in its onstage form, Monkey observes few of the formal conventions
(as far as I can make out) of either Chinese or Western opera. There are
no arias as such. The onstage action is comic and acrobatic rather than
arcanely dramatic. Jamie Hewlett's costume design and animations are
typically cheeky (and more faithful to the TV Monkey than they are to
16th Century folk-myth). Not just the story, but the look,
characterisation and the frequent bouts of, well, fighting, make it a
very modern, very pop-cultural fusion. It's certainly a lot more fun
than any opera I've ever been to.
So what about the record? Well it is, for good or ill, no substitute for
seeing the thing. Neither is it, strictly speaking, a soundtrack, since
this is 50 minutes of music as opposed to 110, and is much more the
fusion of ancient-and-modern that Albarn claims to have originally
intended than the opera's reliance on a conventional pit orchestra would
allow. Having said that - and in spite of the noises coming out of the
Albarn camp to the contrary (one suspects they'd like to sell some
copies of Monkey, and the more they make it sound like a Gorillaz
side-project, the better) - I can confirm that, drum machines aside,
it's pretty much the same animal.
This means plenty in the way of gruff chanting (those are the male
voices) and unearthly ululation (the female ones), which one imagines to
be Chinese conventions observed by Albarn (he certainly claims to have
spent hard yards "getting inside" Chinese music's alien harmony-world).
Otherwise, it is so utterly Damon-esque that it would be hard to imagine
anyone with ears judging otherwise. The doomy lope of familiar Gorillaz
rhythms holds sway; lovely melancholy themes rise and fall as they do
throughout the Albarn oeuvre; there's even the odd melodic snatch
clearly reminiscent of The Good, The Bad & The Queen, the project Albarn
was touring while writing the music for Monkey.
Since it's at the narrative's beck and call, you'd expect some of it to
be fragmentary, and you'd expect correctly. But, while there are
slightly fewer "set-pieces" than you'd demand from a Gorillaz record
(say), what there are are stunning. Heavenly Peach Banquet is "the
single", an irresistible pop melody, like a Mandarin girl-group
surrounded by harps, laughing chatter and Chinese strings. The haunting,
staccato Confessions Of A Pig is a reminder that Albarn's soundtrack
apprenticeship was under the king of pop-classical minimalism, Michael
Nyman (on the excellent Ravenous OST). Then there's the penultimate
Monkey Bee - the second-longest track at 5:02 - and also the most
satisfying, building from a vocal "round" into a Gorillaz-y
electro-swagger into a catharsis of Western rock distortion. It
accompanies a scene where Monkey turns himself into a bee and flies
inside... but hey, there are rumours the show will return to London in
November, and I won't spoil it for you.
Albarn's revelation, from the middle of last year, that he was basing
his compositions on a number system derived from the five points of the
Chinese communist star, appears, from this vantage, to have been
unnecessarily obfuscatory. His Monkey music is far more intelligible,
instinctive, fascinating and enjoyable than he's made it sound. His
music-theatre background (Brecht and Weill are perhaps bigger influences
than Dammers and Davies) puts him on firm footing here. In a funny way,
he's more comfortable - attractive, even - telling a story than he is
presenting Damon Albarn.
Haters be warned: that egg/phizzog interface is on indefinite hold.
- Danny Eccleston
Q - http://news.q4music.com/2008/08/damon_a
Damon Albarn's new album reviewed
When Damon Albarn announced he was bringing a musical version of the
Chinese folk legend Monkey to the stage, it would have been easy to
assume it was just a thematic gag to extend his association with side
project Gorillaz. Just another stage in a journey of reinvention which
has taken him through guitar psych-pop, chart-dominating 'Britpop',
punk-pop bluster, movie soundtracks, electronica, experiments with
Malian musicians and the variety theatre reggae of The Good, The Bad And
Although such constant flitting between wildly varied would suggest a
touch of the dilettante, past experience has shown that each new avenue
for the now 40-year-old musician is accompanied by singular focus and
commitment; and the result is almost always brilliantly realised.
The basics of the Monkey stories would have been as well-known to Albarn
as they would to any child growing up in the late 1970s, courtesy of the
Japanese live action adaptation screened weekly on BBC2 (and more
recently show on late night Channel 4). But his chosen medium and an
understanding of Chinese culture for this latest project took a little
more time to master. To immerse himself, Albarn and his Gorillaz
collaborator - and former flatmate - Jamie Hewlett paid five extended
visits to China, to gain an insight into a world so vastly removed
theirs in the west.
They climbed to mountain-top monasteries, travelled to rural provinces,
recorded in the bustle of economic powerhouse Beijing, learned from
Chinese composers, and got to grips with the strictures of writing
within the traditional pentatonic (five-note) scale. Over many months
they worked with director Chen Shi-Zheng to assemble the ambitious
spectacle Monkey: Journey To The West, premiered at Manchester
International Festival last year and has more recently been staged at
London's Royal Opera House. Now he has interpreted the musical vision of
his stage compositions by piecing together an album of 22 tracks.
Those expecting anything as conventional as songs will be sorely
disappointed. And what lyrics there are (the album is largely
instrumental) are sung in Mandarin. It is not until the fourth track in
that there is anything resembling a proper tune. Despite Albarn's
efforts to thread the work together, the very nature of scoring a major
work - like the soundtrack to a film where the audio works to enhance
the visuals - means it is fragmented, like a series of sketches, whether
it be electronica arpeggios, orchestral stabs or elaborate rhythms.
His fine ear for a cultural identifier is in evidence on Dragon King
which sounds like tinny messages state messages pumped out from tannoys
on Chinese streets. Heavenly Peach Banquet is an early highlight, full
of dreamy 'la-la-la-las' like an eastern version of Minnie Riperton's
Loving You. I Love Buddha is more familiar territory for Albarn, a
pretty gliding carousel waltz with a Bontempi rhythm.
With the most epic piece on the album March Of The Iron Army, Albarn
employs a 60-strong choir in a strident, militaristic piece with strings
and trombones. Monkey Bee is a curious suite which whisks the listener
through Chinese instrumentation, fractured vocal samples, a reggae-lite
beat and concludes with a a rock and roll crescendo of electric guitars.
But as serious as much of the album is in tone, there are still touches
of humour - notably the title Pigsy In Space, a tongue-in-cheek
amalgamation of the name of one of Monkey's sidekick with the Muppet
Show's regular soap opera of the 1970s.
Throughout Albarn sounds confident and capable musically. The difficulty
is contextual. It is hard to know how to see it as an album. It is
clearly not pop, nor classical nor even that great non-genre World
music. And away from the dazzling stage-craft and Hewlett's set designs,
it is tough for the album to speak for itself.
Albarn says it is not a soundtrack but even though there are moments of
brilliance, the most ardent of his fans would struggle to slip this on
from start to finish.