Clever, but not great

This album is a lot more interesting if you take it literally.

In other words, you have to believe an 11-year-old Japanese martial artist is playing guitar, a drummer possessed by the ghost of his hip-hop friends is hammering out those phat beats and a guy with two fractured eyes is singing those deadpan lyrics.

If you believe the animated characters of Gorillaz really are playing their instruments — ignore those musicians behind the curtain! — then Gorillaz the album comes across as pretty cool.

Which it is … for the most part.

IRL (translation: “in real life,” for you beginning Internet surfers), Gorillaz consists of Blur singer Damon Albran and producer Dan “The Automater” Nakamura, with a revolving door of guest musicians including Del tha Funky Homosapien, Hatori Miho of Cibo Matto and Ibrahim Ferrer from Buena Vista Social Club.

A supergroup of that magnitude has got to produce one helluva recording, right? A few tracks support that assumption.

“Re-hash” certainly harkens back to 1994, when some guy named Beck layed an acoustic guitar riff over a hefty backbeat, but this time Albran and co. — I mean, 2D and co. deliver an off-kilter sing-song melody that’s as every bit stoner as it is childplay.

“Tomorrow Comes Today”, one of three incredibly appealing singles off the album, quietly rumbles with a mournful harmonica line and watery bass line. “19-2000” blips and bleeps along, propelled by a catchy chorus delivered by Hatori.

And of course, there’s “Clint Eastwood”. Every music journalist reviewing this disc is required to mention “Clint Eastwood”, a spooky-sounding song that combines dub and hip-hop in a way that’s supposed to be cool and new but comes across as pretty lethargic (to mine ears at least).

From track to track, Gorillaz produces moments of ear-catching cleverness. Like the eerie greeting that opens “M1 A1”. Or the slow-motion Latin rhythms of “Latin Simone”. Or the concise “Hey ho, let’s go”-ness of “Punk.” Or the cool trumpet hook of “Rock the House.”

But all these great, little moments don’t add up to any brilliant whole. If anything, Gorillaz sounds like Nakamura and Albran took one tempo, changed a bunch of preset patterns on a drum machine, then let the rest of the musicians just lay all sorts of different stuff on top of it.

It gets boring after a while listening to one song after another trot along at the same tempo, booming and buzzing with much of the same sonic effects.

If real people were put to task for producing a work this non-descript, they would be raked over the proverbial coals.

But these real people are giving voice to a conceit. Gorillaz is the ultimate concept group, and Gorillaz is a might fine concept album.

Hatori’s broken English enuniciation comes across far more intersting if channeled through Noodle. Del tha Funky Homosapien does an excellent job getting into the character of Russel. And Albran reins in his heavy Cockney accent on enough tracks to give 2D some real humanity and versatility.

Makes you almost wonder what the hell Murdoch does.

If the aim of Gorillaz is to take rock music drama to its extreme, it does a fucking good job.