'The Lost Chord' and The Last Dance - Gorillaz End 'Song Machine Season One' With all the Feels-2020-12-31 13:40:38

 

We must have known this day was coming but fans still weren’t prepared for the last video entry from Gorillaz’s groundbreaking first season of the Song Machine format would come so soon. Gorillaz announced on YouTube and their Instagram page that “The Lost Chord” featuring Leee John would be the “season finale,” so to speak, and in true Gorillaz style, it answered a lot of questions but raised even more. So, sad as it is, without further ado, here’s the last breakdown of the last Song Machine video until God knows when.

'The Lost Chord' and The Last Dance - Gorillaz End 'Song Machine Season One' With all the Feels-2020-12-31 13:40:38Let’s tackle the music first. For those who don’t know him, Leee John was a member of the popular UK R&B/funk group, Imagination. He’s a pretty legendary figure in England and he’s best known for his incredible falsetto. John’s involvement in “The Lost Chord” certainly explains the fun, funky 80s R&B flavor of the music. Coming out of the chaos as it did from “The Valley of the Pagans,” this track offers a soul-soothing respite but in the background, the chaos and experimental tones that have typified Song Machine still be heard.

As the beautiful, goosebump-inducing music plays and Leee John’s voice ensures that even the most stubborn of neck and arm hairs will, by God, stand on end, the lyrics are also pensive and seem to be about music’s power to heal and the flow of it being soothing like water. The lyrics are likely inspired by a Victorian-era song of the same name composed by Sir Arthur Sullivan and whose lyrics were written as a poem by Adelaide Anne Procter. The themes of the lyrics are certainly somewhat similar, about inspiration, the power of music to soothe and that never-ending pursuit of musicians to make the music real that they hear in their heads.

The two “Lost Chords” also share some deeper themes. While the two are not lyrically similar nor do they contain the same subject matter, Damon Albarn has matched the deeper meanings of Procter’s tome. Both are ostensibly about struggle, both internal and external and trying to find what may have been lost in that struggle. Procter, in her day, was very politically active in the fight for women’s rights and general human welfare. Scholars both from the Victorian period and now feel her poem was a thinly veiled call to continue to fight for these rights, even until death, because the thing “lost” was worth it to reclaim. Like that elusive chord on her organ, Procter had seen, felt and touched freedom and equality, and she wasn’t going to let it go.

Similarly in the Gorillaz permutation, the lyrics have Albarn, 2-D, John and everyone else searching for that feeling of peace. It can certainly come with a beautiful song, poem, piece of art or even the “silent waves of sunshine” but Albarn knows it’s just a brief respite until everyone, everywhere, can have the same peace. It’s both a mental and a political freedom he and John sing about in yet another thinly veiled set of verses 150 years on from Procter’s poem. The lyric “take me into the garden” is juxtaposed against Leee John’s falsetto singing “break those chains, baby” reflects the toggling back and forth between the still evident beauty in the world and the long road ahead. The popular rally cry, “no justice, no peace” springs to mind.

If the song wasn’t emotional and poignant enough, the video for “The Lost Chord” certainly clinches it. As was teased by the portal scene in the previous video for “The Valley of the Pagans,” the Gorillaz crew do end up back at Plastic Beach but it’s a very different vibe than before. The first shocking frame shows Murdoc pulling the phantom mask from Plastic Beach off his face with a look of horror as “The Pink Phantom” swirls around the group. For the canon heads, this will be very satisfying because we now know Murdoc, or some part of his personality, is the phantom, that the phantom carries through at least three albums and that, likely, this is why the Gorillaz have been traipsing all over the planet and existence itself, either fighting or running from this thing.

Something the Gorillaz storylines are really good about is creating a sense of normalcy and fun around the characters even while scary, traumatic things are happening. From “Clint Eastwood” and “Dirty Harry” to “Stylo” and “Melancholy Hill,” it always sort of seemed like the band were having fun or at least making the best of the crazy situations in which they found themselves. They’re always able to be there for each other and interject some humor into the dire surroundings. In “The Lost Chord,” however, it’s pretty much pure trauma.

The band are revisiting Plastic Beach for a myriad of practical reasons, not the least of which seems to be saving Murdoc’s soul, but as they look around the old stomping grounds where they were marooned, where Noodle had to run from some horrid government force she’d been running from since “El Mañana.”

If the song wasn’t emotional and poignant enough, the video for “The Lost Chord” certainly clinches it. As was teased by the portal scene in the previous video for “The Valley of the Pagans,” the Gorillaz crew do end up back at Plastic Beach but it’s a very different vibe than before. The first shocking frame shows Murdoc pulling the phantom mask from Plastic Beach off his face with a look of horror as “The Pink Phantom” swirls around the group. For the canon heads, this will be very satisfying because we now know Murdoc, or some part of his personality, is the phantom, that the phantom carries through at least three albums and that, likely, this is why the Gorillaz have been traipsing all over the planet and existence itself, either fighting or running from this thing.

Something the Gorillaz storylines are really good about is creating a sense of normalcy and fun around the characters even while scary, traumatic things are happening. From “Clint Eastwood” and “Dirty Harry” to “Stylo” and “Melancholy Hill,” it always sort of seemed like the band were having fun or at least making the best of the crazy situations in which they found themselves. They’re always able to be there for each other and interject some humor into the dire surroundings. In “The Lost Chord,” however, it’s pretty much pure trauma.

The band are revisiting Plastic Beach for a myriad of practical reasons, not the least of which seems to be saving Murdoc’s soul, but as they look around the old stomping grounds where they were marooned, where Noodle had to run from some horrid government force she’d been running from since “El Manana,” where Russel, blown up to ten times his normal size, rose up like an island and saved her, where the phantom preyed on the band’s manatee, friend, all the group can do is remember and hope remembering heals.

The only sort of comedic respite in this video is when Leee John rises up out of the sea much like Russel did years ago as a 1960s movie-style sea monster costume to sing his part. The whole video is meant to have a sort of vintage vibe but John’s costuming and intentional overacting really seals it. It’s unclear whether the band is meant to be scared at the sight of the John monster; Russel starts out as a giant again but returns to regular size so it may be that Johnmonster is taking on that role. Clad in chains, he busts up the Plastic Beach island with laser eyes as the band scramble to the top of the old lighthouse and post-consumer plastic debris fills the sea. For better or worse, the Gorillaz must not leave the Plastic Beach behind. Leee John told them to “break the chains” and then he essentially did it for them.

Before we talk about the heart-rending end of the video, there’s one bit of “The Lost Chord” that we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss, because it once again raises more questions than the rest of the video answers and, of course, provides a cliffhanger for the Gorillaz saga. It appears that Pagan/Stylo the car did turn into the band’s old shark-shaped submarine from the “Melancholy Hill” video (probably) but it’s smaller now, named “Ringo” and carries what looks like the corpse of Noodle’s 3D robot doppelganger from “Stylo” and “Melancholy Hill.”

At some point after he takes off the mask, Murdoc gets into the dilapidated sub and dives away into deep water. That was a gaps moment, but a few frames later, we see him on top of the lighthouse with the rest of the group. Did he somehow split when the phantom finally left him? It’s interesting to note that the Murdoc we see running away in the submarine has more yellow, closer to human color, skin. Fans have noticed Murdoc has been getting greener and greener throughout the Gorillaz canon, giving him the nickname “Pickle” and speculating the reasons for his skin changing. No good theories really existed before now; a lot of people thought it was because of his drinking and his already yellow skin turning green as he became more cirrhosed, there was a theory that he somehow ingested interim bass player Ace to get his thrown back between The Now Now and now (now) but nothing really fit.

It could be the color of the ocean mixing with it, but the escaping Murdoc’s skin looks distinguishably less green than the Murdoc who remains on land. Also notably, as Murdoc took off the mask and the Pink Phantom flew around like a popped balloon, Giant Russell spit Noodle out of his mouth and smiled for literally the first time ever as he shrunk back to his normal size. Perhaps he knows the band is finally safe and he no longer has to protect Noodle, who’s always running after Murdoc to protect 2-D from him.

'The Lost Chord' and The Last Dance - Gorillaz End 'Song Machine Season One' With all the Feels-2020-12-31 13:40:38

Most realize all this until that gorgeous ending, where the portal comes back to pick up the band and it’s a near miss for Murdoc. It seems both his good and bad sides are to remain at Plastic Beach and atone for all the horrible things they’ve done, phantom-related or not. Just as we think that’s it, however, the portal opens up and 2-D, the one upon whom Murdoc has unequivocally inflicted the most damage and also still the most beatifically trusting member of the band, reaches out, takes Murdoc’s hand and pulls him to safety. If you weren’t in absolute tatters by the end of that scene, you might want to look into a replacement heart.

“The Lost Chord” video is endlessly satisfying in so many ways; there’s renewed hope for Murdoc and 2-D, the band have returned to Plastic Beach to deal with and perhaps even heal from almost two decades of trauma and perhaps their adventures will look permanently like they did in “Humility” before Russel tripped 2-D. It seems dubious, however, because the evil side of Murdoc is still out there and so too is the phantom, potentially.

There’s always been a supernatural element to Gorillaz, all the way back to when Del the Funky Homosapien haunted Russel’s hat in the very first single. One has to wonder if it’s been the same ghost or ghosts all along who made the babboons rise up from the graveyard and to the “Thriller” dance, who tempted the band in the house with all of their vices before sending the to space, who incited Bruce Willis to chase them in Stylo and then vanished a cop, who has haunted Murdoc and the whole band and who control the mountain called Monkey. Have the Gorillaz finally escaped these dark souls? Will Murdoc stop torturing 2-D? How will the band deal with the other evil forces in the world now? Will they leave the band alone now Murdoc has exorcised it and Noodle has put down her kitty cat mask and machine gun?

It’s unclear as always about where the Gorillaz will go from here and how they will interact with their world or worlds from here on but with “The Lost Chord” and Song Machine as a whole, it seems like Albarn and genius animator Jamie Hewlett are using this platform to call for some kind of peace and unity in the new year. If Murdoc can exorcise his demons and 2-D can forgive him, anything is possible.

Song Machine has truly been the perfect anthem to 2020 in all the best ways. Albarn and Hewlett have once again tackled so many difficult personal, political, societal and spiritual issues, it’s no wonder we had to spend so much time on each song. Fans are left to watch, listen and feel the story in whatever way they want and in the meantime the vibes, music and emotion almost always heal. We needed that guideline this uear perhaps more than ever and hopefully out of the Murdocian chaos of 2020, the pure love and kindness of humanity will offer us a hand to the other side.

“The Lost Chord” is supposed to be the finale of Song Machine Season One but there are still a lot of other great tracks on this record and with Gorillaz, fans have learned to never say never. Anyone who has anxiety over the first half of 2021 being starkly devoid of Gorillaz may not have to worry. No announcements yet about season two but Hewlett and Albarn always have a trick or two up their sleeves (read: when Albarn said there would be no Gorillaz material released for another ten years after The Now Now) and the Song Machine series may have been created as such so they can consistently release rather than waiting years between albums.

Either way, rest assured that whenever they do come back, it will be fun, interesting, soulful and just what the world needs. Thank you to the Gorillaz creators, musicians and collaborators for being a lifeline this year. You are the 2-D that at least half of society doesn’t deserve.  In the meantime, there’s the Gorillaz Almanac that’s finally shipping and, of course, somewhat substantiated wisps of a Gorillaz movie in the future.

Editorial Music

Leave a Comment