Review Summary: Round 3 for Albarn and co. proves that third time is still indeed the charm.
“I’m so f*cking sick of drawing those characters
” – Jamie Hewlett
I’ve always considered the Gorillaz a rather interesting enigma, an unusual entry into the music world. There are the obvious examples of course; I mean how seriously can you take an animated band that relies just as much on its back story as it does on actual music releases? And that’s where I’ve always managed to find a problem; I’ve no interest in a band/group that spends far too much time setting the scene when I’ve always found them lacking in the actual musical goods. That’s not to say I had written them off completely; both their self-titled effort and Demon Days
were not without their charms, but it always seemed that they were unable to carry one idea throughout a whole album. While that obviously allowed the superior songs on each L.P to shine even more, both albums always seemed half realized and inflated with an air of pretentiousness and smugness. Needless to say, I believed that Gorillaz (read: Damon Albarn) were squandering their potential, wasting it away on songs that seemed catered to their eager audience, as opposed to songs that sounded like something Albarn really wanted to write for himself. Luckily Plastic Beach
does a wonderful job of blowing away all the notions and feelings I ever had towards this band; and I couldn’t be more surprised and happy in equal measures.
Damon Albarn proclaimed in the build up to release date as saying that this was going to be the Gorillaz’ most pop oriented album to date. But, without a single track on here bearing any resemblance to ‘Feel Good Inc.’ or ‘Dare’ that really isn’t the case, and the album comes off a lot stronger as a result. There’s no overwhelming track to break the flow of the album, Plastic Beach
rolls along at an almost soothing pace and all the tracks on offer serve only to compliment each other. While there are obvious highlights there’s no sense of any one song attempting to dominate the whole album, as such every track becomes integral and significant to the overall sound and theme of the album as a whole. But just as Demon Days
and their self titled albums started, so does Plastic Beach
; this isn’t an album that begins lightly, or remarkably strong either. Even with Snoop sounding more laid back than ever before with his pimpin’ drawl and rap dub approach coupled with a rather suitable overture acting as the introduction to the album, it’s not until ‘Rhinestone Eyes’ (brilliant) that Plastic Beach
really feels like it’s begun. ‘Rhinestone’ is all dream and haze, with its ‘80’s throwback vibes and retro appeal. With its abstract poetic imagery “your rhinestone eyes are like factories far away”, it’s an early album highlight. And while containing all the necessary ingredients that make up a typical Gorillaz track, it still sounds fresh and full of life with its greedy synth literally bouncing off the walls.
‘Stylo’ starts up next, a genre mashing number and well deserving of the title “first single”. An addictive bass line leads the way forward as Mos Def drops in to lend his talents. It’s a brave track, relying more on Bobby Womack’s thunderous arrival (it’s rumored that his performance caused him to pass out in the studio) than a catchy chorus or hook to see it through. And it’s here that Damon deserves the round of applause that’s been long overdue, because I’d love to know how anyone would be able to make a track featuring Mos and Bobby Womack (his bottom wails are a treat) sound as if Gary Numan was sitting behind the production booth. Out of everyone that stumbled out of the wake of the whole ‘Britpop’ scene Albarn still remains the only chief player still interested in defining himself as a musician. At one end of the spectrum you have ‘Empire Ants’, all melancholic and minimal with only the pitter patter of a drum machine keeping Albarn’s suitable drawl company. And then at the other end there’s ‘Sweepstakes’ with it’s almost dancehall approach, bombastic in its splendor and hip hop aesthetic.
There’s enough going on in this album to make sure that it won’t be dropping off the radar anytime soon. And chances are it’ll take away as many awards as all their previous works, and so it should; the guest spot by Lou Reed (obviously out of his comfort zone) is a gem to hear and much more inspired than some of the group’s previous collaborations, and serves as just another of the many album highlights. But what I’m left wondering is will this album take away all those awards simply based on the Gorillaz stigma? Or will it survive on its own and manage the distance under its own steam? Because this is a different beast all together; this is a much more soothing and relaxing approach for the Gorillaz. It’s a snapshot of a colorful and inspiration filled mindset, and ends up standing head and shoulders above the rest of their discography. Whatever notions you have about animated characters making music this is an album that demands attention. It’s a lazy dub like ride that while running at a 100mph feels like it’s barely moving at all, it’s everywhere and nowhere all at once. Something good washed up on this beach.