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3.9 out of 5 stars
35
3.9 out of 5 stars
Format: Audio CD|Change
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on 11 September 2008
I have been a keen advoate of all things Damon Albarn post-Graham Coxon (i.e., Blur's `Think Tank` and beyond) so was understandably quite excited by the album release of `Monkey, Journey to the West`. I had not seen the Chinese opera-spectacular which this album scores but I didn't let that dissuade me from pre-ordering this one from Amazon. What I hadn't realised was that this 22-song collection largely comprises incidental compositions from the opera and doesn't stand up as an album in its own right. Unless you have seen the opera - in which case this might make a compelling souvenir - I feel duty-bound to warn you not to expect something on the scale of other Albarn side-projects such as Gorillaz' `Demon Days`, `Mali Music` or `The Good, the Bad and the Queen`.

There are handfull of lovely individual songs - particularly the Himalayan Kate Bushisms of `Heavenly Peach Blanket' - but the majority are sonic doodles of varying interest. Predominantly comprising synths and drum machines, fleshed out with guitar, harp and strings, some are diverting enough - even narrational - in their own right, but most score some unseen action intelligable only to those who have seen the production. The effect is sometimes frustratingly akin to being stuck in a theatre foyer ticketless while the action gets underway without you in the audience. And unlike a traditional opera, the music seems rather secondary - or at least only complementary to - the action on stage, rather than the other way around. As a souvenir, it's an attractive package, but I've never been a fan of Jamie Hewlett's artwork - Gorillaz for me was always just about the music.
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on 22 August 2008
What a gem of an album this is!

I haven't seen the show so on the music and music alone, I have to say that there are some genuinely beautiful moments on this album.
As for the so-called 'difficult' pieces, I agree these will not be everyone's cup of tea but I think many people, myself included, see them as curious little moments that demand re-listening to get your head around.

I like music that isn't just ear candy and actually has some substance and Damon has really achieved something here. Something that is totally different (thank God!) from everything else out there at the moment.
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on 30 November 2008
Back ground music this is not! This album is full of extraordinary sounds and feelings that are powerful and strange. It is impossible to listen to this as background music, but if you enjoy music for the range of emotions and physical experiences it evokes you will love this album. Yes, there is the trademark Albarn waltz underlying "I love Buddha", and the more westernised tracks tend to be underpinned by thumping Gorillaz baselines, but this album is as strange and different as it should be. There is no English, but Mandarin, many of the instruments are strange, and the melodies are rooted in Chinese folk traditions. You will either find this album wierd and inaccessible, or utterly exhilerating. Deserves to be listened to properly and loudly!!
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on 26 May 2009
Everyone who saw the two-minute animated ident for the BBC's Olympic coverage last year will have a pretty good idea what to expect from this soundtrack to Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's epic East meets West operetta. Bubbly synthesizers, sweet Chinese vocals and various kinds of Eastern instrumentation are supplemented by more familiar dance sensibilities. I was relieved to find that despite being removed from the context of the operetta, this collection of songs still worked for me.

As with Albarn's other recent project, The Good The Bad And The Queen, this ambitious collation may sound unworkable in practice, but actually makes for a fascinating if off-kilter delight.
The mixture veers widely from the pure Cantonese pop of tracks such as `The Dragon King', to electronica `Monkey Bee, `Monkey's World', and more unusual offerings such as `Iron Rod' and `Whisper'. We occasionally see glimpses of the more recognizable in tracks like `O Mi To Fu', but, surprisingly, some of the most successful creations here are the less ambitious but musically sound stuff like `The White Skeleton Demon' or ` Disappearing Volcano'.

Ultimately Albarn's latest offering represents a brave and mainly successful attempt to fuse East and West by pushing the boundaries of music; not content with being the face and the driving force of on of the 90s most successful and musically accomplished pop bands, Damon seems determined to move into as many disparate musical areas as he has time for, and on this showing I am fascinated to see what he will come up with next.
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on 3 September 2008
is this any good, yes. would it be any good without damon albarns name on it? yes but surely wouldn't make the light of day on western charts. its a great opeara score and the good thing is even without having seen the show, its easy to imagine how track names complement the music.. worth buying, still undecided.
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on 24 August 2008
I loved the TV series Monkey! - The Complete Series, and because of this I have a good idea of what's going on in the music without having seen the stage opera it comes from. And I love this. The clash of traditional eastern and experimental western influences just has to be heard to be believed. Above anything else it is music for the imagination, and if you know what's going on then it really is a heavenly peach of a gift in both sound and the visuals you create around it.

However, there are evidently a few Gorillaz [Explicit Lyrics] [Bonus Tracks] fans out there who don't have a clue what it's about and were obviously expecting something more along those lines, hence a few one-star ratings. Their point is a good one (I'm a Gorillaz fan too, and I sympathise with them to some extent), but if you have a good imagination and you know the story or the TV series, it is a must and - for you - it will not disappoint.
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on 21 August 2008
Having previously watched the BBC Imagine documentary about this project, but missing the chance to catch the opera in London, I was pleased this album was released. Personally, I was impressed as I'm a fan of Chinese culture, world music, and the genius of Jamie Hewlett. The major downfall, I thought, was that the track from the BBC Olympics ad is not included (I do realise that this is based on the opera, and not the spin-off Olympics animation, but had my hopes up that it may be on here).
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on 20 August 2008
A gem infusing Chinese music with beautiful electronic soundscape. The output works and brought freshness to traditional music. This album is worth listening to for the sound alone, and the diverse treatments of the tracks, such as the delightful "Heavenly Peach Banquet" pop, the lyrical "The Living Sea" and the unflinchingly folk music of "Monk's Song" using only voices and pipa without electronic instruments. The best and most innovative track is "Monkey Bee" in which human voices and music instruments blended to good effects. You get to hear the voices as layers of riffs and a main theme, used (with a different lyric) in the BBC Olympic theme tune which also has a similar highly charged climix. Crank the volume up!

This is a music suite and not a complete soundtrack from the opera. Yes, some tracks could last a bit longer, but you could just repeat the tracks. If you are into soundtrack or classical music, this shouldn't be challenging at all to listen to. In fact it's quite accessible because of some of the tunes (yes) and interesting sound. Shouldn't need a second listening to 'get it'.

In terms of context, it is a bit irrelevant as I wonder how the epic and long journey would fit into a 90-minutes opera, let alone a suite. This won't tell you the whole story for which, better alternatives are available: read the book or watch the 13 discs Monkey! tv series. Looking at the CD sleeves, I hope the duo are thinking about a comic book or musical animation series (like Stokowski's Fantasia) for those of us who can't get enough of this monkey magic.
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on 2 September 2008
Well, there is no doubt Monkey at the Royal Opera House was one of the events of summer 08 in London and I went and was certainly entertained. As a spectacle I think the whole thing came together and there should have been a DVD. Many would like to have seen this who didn't get an opportunity - rather exclusive compared to Gorillaz. So, the music. Does it stand up? Just about. Unlike Gorillaz and Good, Bad Queen you can really hear the joins in this. It's not the production, which is quite masterful. There's electronica, choirs singing in large spaces, brass, trad Chinese instruments etc. all vying for a place in the mix and I feel this works. You could use this CD to show off your hifi for sure. But I hear all the joins in the musical composition (sorry Damon!): there are vocal melodies directly parallel to what you hear on Good, Bad, Queen (Albarn trademark or DNA I guess); the 'chinese' melodies I feel are fairly standard - sort of thing you you hear on Buddhist chant records (where they add percussion and mellotron). There is LOTS of Michael Nyman style rhythm (which is why it won't sound like Gorillaz anywhere)- particularly with orchestral 'strings'. On one track (March of the iron army) this is added to a vocal reminiscent of the score for Nevsky - so if a Nyman/Prokoviev mash up is your thing...Basically, though I want to support the whole idea of this kind of production - there's only Damon Albarn doing all these really interesting projects and, dare I make the comparison with the Beatles, very few composers are able to imagine things that reach such a broad cross-section of the public - I like the idea of the blue rinse set listening to Good Bad Queen and buying art by the 'zombie flesh eaters'!
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on 18 August 2008
Albarn has really excelled here - this is beautiufl music that like the previous reviewer really does make you think about China. Eclectic music that is like nothing I've heard before. May be a challenging experience for some but ultimately rewarding.
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