Written by Alisha Weinberger
The Gorillaz have returned with their most politically charged single and music video yet. Featuring guest vocals from English poet and crooner Benjamin Clementine, with secondary vocals from Damon Albarn (resuming the persona of 2D), “Hallelujah Money” is nothing to dance to and rightfully so. On the eve of a contentious U.S. presidential inauguration, the animated musical group rein in a five year absence with a haunting, apocalyptic gospel that will and should make you feel uneasy.
It has always been difficult to solely examine the sound of Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, as their music is so syncratic with the visual. Much of the gravity of “Hallelujah Money” is dependent on the imagery of the video and Clementine’s choreography. Á la The Shining, Clementine stands in golden elevator of either a hotel or corporate office. If the Trump-focused commentary wasn’t obvious at the start, the rest of the performance violently bombards with a plethora of cultural and political footage both fiction and nonfiction. The most overt juxtaposition of music and image occurs as Clementine emphasizes a lyric, “…by building walls.” as footage from the animated adaptation of Orwell’s Animal Farm projects across his face. This is just one example of a deeply complex statement the duo is trying to get at. The rest of the video proceeds with a disturbing collage of KKK parades, oil rig fires, Utopian school children, dances and costumes from foreign cultures, iconic cowboys, and monetary symbols.
Musically, “Hallelujah Money,” as the name suggests is incredibly operatic and gospel in tone. The synonymous connection between religion, capitalism, and politics is all but subtle. Paired with Clementine’s words more preaching than singing, is a continuous angelic choir much like the “Demon Days” track that capped off the end of the album of the same title. Albarn takes the backburner, only coming in for the hook of the song.
Considering the more electronic and dance oriented Plastic Beach and even the post-9/11 Demon Days was not as overt in political conversation, this is an incredibly unusual and bold way to return even for the Gorillaz. “Hallelujah Money” seems to have been released as way of establishing a drastic aesthetic of the clandestine, upcoming album and as a way of stating the Gorillaz may have been absent for five years but they were certainly not gone, and certainly listening to the state of the world.