Swear I'm not Paul: Album Review: Monkey – Journey to the West

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Album Review: Monkey – Journey to the West

Monkey - Journey to the West album cover art

First let me get this out of the way: Monkey is no Gorilla(z). It’s from the same species, but far from the same animal. Gorillaz is strong and powerful, obvious, yet vastly interesting. Monkey is more complex, long and stringy in comparison, and takes careful observation as well as a meticulous attention span.

The soundtrack for Monkey: Journey to the West from Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett is probably exactly what I expected, while at the same time being nothing like I imagined. Everyone knows Albarn can sometimes have a love for the more obscure aspects of music (look at his ninety million ongoing projects), and seeks to bring this stuff to the mainstream. Luckily for this album, he’s a well known figure, because without his celebrity, this vanity project would sell few.

The album is not without its moments (I base this review solely on the music, not the theatre show or the excellent BBC Olympics intro), but like you’d expect from Monkey, it’s all over the place. Where it works is when the songs are left as instrumentals, such as ‘Into the Eastern Sea’, ‘Out of the Eastern Sea’, and ‘I Love Buddha’.
Some of the songs with vocals are a bit above so-so (‘Monkey Bee’), but songs like ‘Confessions of a Pig’ would have been so much better without the vocals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not impartial to a bit of oriental singing (I even have some Final Fantasy soundtracks), but in some places, ‘Confessions of a Pig’ especially, the vocals here sound more like barks than music.

In the context, this music probably works so much better. You would need to see the stage show to truly appreciate it. However, us in Ireland are unlikely to see Monkey appearing at the Gaiety anytime soon. A DVD version will probably be released from the show. But as of now, I can only base my review on the soundtrack, and unfortunately this time, Albarn has missed the mark. Some soundtracks still work excellently as stand-alone products (like the Atonement and Jurassic Park OSTs), but sadly without Monkey See, there’s not too much to Monkey Do.

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