EMI - 2005 - 51 minutes

Damon Albarn's side-project took a lurch from amusing diversion to major label property when they sold a stunning 4m copies of their debut album. Now this virtual band are a major part of EMI's strategy for 2005, and it shows in the lavish packaging and DVD extras on the special edition.

West Coast deckmaster Dan 'The Automator' Nakamura has left the group, to be replaced with Danger Mouse, the man behind last year's controversial Jay-Z/Beatles bootleg 'The Grey Album'.

After the utterly pointless 'Intro', 'Demon Days' finds its first brilliant moment on 'Last Living Souls'. A combination of dub foundations, vibey strings and an incongruous semi-rap from Albarn, it sets the tone for the album, with Danger Mouse tweaking the faders to good effect.

'Kids With Guns' starts in uninspiring fashion; but the videogame effects, guitar licks and heartfelt vocal eventually lead up to an overwhelming torrent of piano, percussion and pounding bass. 'O Green World' sees Albarn making a fair stab at a wordless pastiche of Ennio Morricone and it's better than it reads in paper text, believe me.

The powerful productions are well supported by a wide range of guests of varying levels of notoriety, with Stockwell rapper Roots Manuva, the enigmatic MF Doom and veterans De La Soul representing hip-hop. Neneh Cherry makes an all-to-rare appearance, while Ike Turner, Shaun Ryder and, bizarrely, Dennis Hopper make slightly random contributions.

'Dirty Harry' begs comparison with 'Clint Eastwood', the first album's infectious gem. The combination of children's choir and the smooth retro-electro hip-hop sound might be distinctive, but it's hardly a glistening pop classic.

'Every Planet We Reach Is Dead' is as much fun as its cheery title, but 'All Alone' showcases the exceptional timbre of MF Doom's rhymes to perfection. If bringing artists like Doom and Roots Manuva to a wider audience is the only thing 'Demon Days' achieves, then the whole project has been worthwhile.

The album suffers from two main problems: Damon Albarn's occasionally limp and awkward singing and a serious lack of focus that sees it slip off the rails late in the second half. But as major label summer releases go, 'Demon Days' is complex, satisfying stuff.

Luke McManus

Tracklisting: Intro - Last Living Souls - Kids with Guns - O Green World - Dirty Harry - Feel Good Inc - Mañana - Every Planet We Reach Is Dead - November Has Come - All Alone - White Light - Dare - Fire Coming Out of a Monkey's Head - Don't Get Lost in Heaven - Demon Days