Years ago, I totally started to dig several Gorillaz singles (DARE, Dirty Harry, etc.), even though it was outside my regular area of musical interest. I quickly purchased the two Gorillaz albums, and very slowly absorbed them. At first, the singles stood out, but I didn’t especially have the patience for the rest of it because it was so poppy. Then at some point, I suddenly totally “got it”.
So here we are. Is this the most mainstream album I have ever reviewed? Quite probably.
Plastic Beach is of course the third Gorillaz album. It’s pretty damn good. In fact, I think I like it more than the other two already. Much like the first two, this record is heavy on collaborations, with such illustrious names as Mos Def, De La Soul and Snoop Dogg. Oh, and Bobby Womack.
Speaking of Womack, that’s quite an entrance he makes on this album, 2 minutes into track 5, Stylo. I had totally forgotten how cool that guy is.
Oh yeah, Lou Reed’s there too, but I am required by public mandate to be slightly dismissive of all things Lou Reed, regardless of quality.
So anyway, it slowly drifts in with an orchestral introduction, through something of a second introduction, a song featuring the aforementioned Snoop Dogg. Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach sets up the album’s core themes (yes, this is a “concept album”) of consumerism and environmentalism. Then the rest of the album proper begins with White Flag. Which is really cool, despite the potentially irritating presence of British rappers (who I generally have a hard time appreciating – do not get the Dizzee Rascal love at all) Bashy and Kano.
The album is largely synth oriented this time round, with most of the melodic hooks being insanely catchy repeating bleepy synth lines. The hip hop elements are downplayed slightly this time round, despite the abundance of guest rappers. It’s nice to see this project moving forward in new ways, rather than retracing its steps, which I’m sure is what most people think they want. If you want old Gorillaz, listen to old Gorillaz. But it seems like this is just enough of the old and just enough of the new to stand up against their previous hits.
There is a stretch from White Flag through to On Melancholy Hill which is just sublime, and though the remainder of the album feels like something of a comedown, it’s by no means filler. Personal highlights include Superfast Jellyfish, which features De La Soul and Gruff Rhys though I’ve no idea where he appears (is that him with the high-pitched bits?), and Glitter Freeze, which features a typically menacing drawl from The Fall’s Mark E. Smith. I can’t work out if he’s saying “You wanted credit, I believe ya!” or “You were a credit, I believe ya!” Not that either makes much sense. Welcome to the World of Gorillaz Lyrics.
Lyrically and visually, the album is all about pollution, specifically the idea of disposable waste, plastics seen by many as disposable, but in fact, entirely the opposite. It’s not a preachy message though, more of a reflection of modern values and consumerist sentiments. The front cover features an island made out of waste, though it seems to be something of a miniature paradise, a refuse made of refuse. Except less retarded sounding.
So Damon Albarn has made another great hip-pop record, which makes me sad that there’s not many more bands out there in the mainstream pursuing this kind of collaborative creative endeavour. Not that sad though, because Plastic Beach is good enough to last me until the next Gorillaz output (not remixes though, bleugh). All hail Gorillaz, a modern pop band that does not suck balls.