D-Sides works as a compilation album because it shows every side of the Gorillaz story from the silly to the deathly serious.
Released at the peak of Gorillaz’ worldwide commerciality, the B-sides and remix compilation D-Sides has gone a little under the radar, and rightfully so. It’s not meant to be approached as a complete work like its sister album Demon Days or its 2010 follow-up Plastic Beach, but unlike most B-side collections, it’s not just for curious fans or completists, either. The common elements of these types of compilations — stylistic variation, spontaneity, overall dips and spikes in quality — are exactly what make Gorillaz so universally amusing in the first place. After all, the same wide-eyed entertainment of the disparate rock/hip-hop/electronic fusion that defines Gorillaz —and their debut album in particular—is what makes D-Sides as worthwhile as anything in their catalog.
D-Sides comes off more favorably now that it’s removed from the Gorillaz legacy. Far from the view of the project’s last major release, the disappointing, iPad-recorded tour diary The Fall, similar electro sketches like the infectious “68 State” and the searing vintage techno of “Rockit” fall into place among a slew of divergent, highly-stylized songs. The light beauty of “Stop the Dams” and the gently realized ballad “Hong Kong” would fit in well with the upbeat expanses of critical favorite Plastic Beach. Crunchy rock jams like “Murdoc is God” hearken back to the straightforward stylistic fusion of Gorillaz. “Bill Murray” stuns with an irresistible bass and drum groove, funky background horns and a contrasting melancholic vocal line that with a little more polish would have fit right in with the best on Demon Days. The sinister distorted bass and slow-mo disco guitar on “Spitting Out the Demons” forms one of the collection’s catchiest and brightest songs, as slight as it is, while the early versions of Demon Days cuts are just as vital. Beloved single “DARE” shows up with different lyrics, a thinner beat and no Shaun Ryder as the unique but no less infectious “People,” while the kitschy but undeniably fun electro-bluegrass demo version of “Don’t Get Lost in Heaven” may just overshadow the more serious, choir-led original.
Disc two is the remix disc, and while it has its share of bland remixes and inexplicable curiosities (like a Chinese-language version of “Dirty Harry”), the mere idea of DFA, Hot Chip, Metronomy and Jamie T taking on Demon Days tracks alone should have fans salivating. The latter’s take on “Kids With Guns” in particular is a complete deviation, but the real highlights are the DFA’s version of “DARE,” somehow injected with even more vintage dance energy than the original, and Hot Chip’s quietly simmering “Kids With Guns.” While spottier than the main disc, the second half of D-Sides nonetheless provides a welcome outside perspective after a set of Albarn-focused Gorillaz tracks.
D-Sides works as a compilation album because it shows every side of the Gorillaz story from the silly to the deathly serious; it works as a stand-alone album because even this collection of outcast studio fodder delivers more ingenuity, fun and insight than the majority of bands with the same amount of commercial and cultural cachet. These kinds of offbeat experiments not only embody exactly what made Gorillaz so exciting from the start, but they subvert pop music conventions without sacrificing accessibility. The compilation is a product of Albarn’s most productive and creative period with the project, and indeed one of the busiest eras in his storied musical career.
With the news that Gorillaz is set to return, fans and curious outsiders alike will look to revisit the project’s greatest past achievements. They shouldn’t skip D-Sides; it’s the perfect bridge between the project’s two greatest albums, the darker, more hip-hop-centric Demon Days and the experimental electro-pop concept album Plastic Beach. These are undervalued treasures from the mind of one of his generation’s greatest rock stars, and for as many insights as they reveal into the Gorillaz process, they’re also just outrageously fun.