TRACK MARKS: “On Melancholy Hill” by Gorillaz

You know that Seinfeld episode where Elaine get annoyed because the guy she’s dating zones out whenever he hears “Desperado?” I’m that guy, but with a different song. It comes on, I get in a mood, and I just feel better.


My sanity comes courtesy of Damon Albarn, at least partially. I know that people think of Blur and Gorillaz as raucous or dance-worthy bands (sorry The  Good, the Bad, and the Queen—I know nothing about you), but Albarn has actually come up with a number of songs I find inherently calming. Last time I was on a plane, I listened to Blur’s “Under the Westway” on repeat all during takeoff to make me less nervous. It worked—flight felt kind of magical again. When I’m sad, I listen to “Mr. Tembo,” and I think about Albarn singing to a baby elephant, and I’m less sad. He just has a soothing voice.

“Under the Westway” and “Mr. Tembo,” though, are liked by many. (Millions?) I don’t mind sharing those. I got to hear the end of “Mr. Tembo” during this year’s Governor’s Ball in NYC, and only got better with more people singing along.

My secret chill-out song, though, is mine alone.

“On Melancholy Hill,” as far as I know, isn’t the most popular Gorillaz song. By anecdotal evidence alone, if I had to guess at their most popular song, it’d be “Clint Eastwood,” “19-2000,” or “DARE.” But “On Melancholy Hill” is the song I find most uplifting.

That’s odd, because the situation of the song is pretty sad. In a track-by-track rundown of Plastic Beach, Murdoc said this song is “that feeling, that place, that you get in your soul sometimes, like someone’s let your tyres down.” And it feels that way, too. It’s about a place called Melancholy Hill, after all, and at the summit there’s a lonely plastic tree.

But there’s something beautiful about it, too, about the song and the image. I find something hopeful when Albarn sings “and you can get me,” which I’ve read is a reference to the “but you don’t get me” parts of The Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing.”

But my favorite moment is right in the first line. The phrase “on Melancholy Hill” rhythmically fits perfectly and evenly into the melody, but the first time Damon says it, he doesn’t sing it that way. He extends the word “Melancholy” a teensy bit and waits a fraction of a second second before he gets to the word “Hill.” That’s the moment I dwell in when I’m feeling down: a barely-there pause where it’s just me, the hill, and the tree.

Since it’s been a long week, I’ll let you all listen to my “Desperado.” But if I’m with you next time you hear it, I’m not sharing it with you.