Review Summary: An identity crisis caught on record.
It's the most normal-sounding Gorillaz album yet in the sense that it's the one that could most easily have been made by anybody else, but the guest-heavy, unfocused Plastic Beach
is certainly the weirdest one to listen to. For a band who were so fun and unique on their first couple of records, it's bewildering how they've managed to become something entirely different in spirit without actually changing all that much on the surface.
It all comes down to the massed rank of vocalists here, ultimately. There's no doubting that the most fun thing you can do with this album is put it on, having never heard it before and never looked at the tracklisting, and wait in amazement for the moment you say 'holy crap, is that Bobby Womack?', or 'wow, Kano!, or 'seriously, Snoop Dogg is on this?'. It's the defining feature of the album, but it's also the biggest failing, because it destroys this band's own personal identity.
That doesn't mean that Plastic Beach
doesn't sound like a Gorillaz album; far from it, in fact, and that's the real problem. All these songs just sound too much
like Gorillaz songs, in an uncomfortable, self-conscious way. Albarn clearly understood that having so many outside influences would confuse things, and so he's made sure that everything has had the once-over to make it sound like a true follow-up to Demon Days
. As a result it completely lacks any spontaneity or, really, any fun - for example, there's something far too studied about the cod-exoticism of "White Flag", even though Albarn goes for maximum authenticity points by bringing in the Lebanese National Orchestra, while "Rhinestone Eyes" tries to co-opt Beck's laid-back attitude, but sounds wound-up. The tacky, shamefully '80s sounding basslines and sound effects all over the place (see "Stylo", "Glitter Freeze", "On Melancholy Hill", and "Plastic Beach") are just the nadir of a production job that pitches itself so squarely at 'cool' that you just know it'll sound horribly dated in 3 years.
It rubs off on the guest vocalists, too. Mos Def particularly is disappointing, his performances sounding more New Danger
- it's yet more proof, if it were needed, that he can only ever be truly great over traditional hip-hop and he should probably just stay away from rock and pop altogether. The best thing you could say about Kano is that he sounds comfortable, but his raps lack fire and inspiration, while Lou Reed and Snoop Dogg sound exactly like the washed-up lazy has-beens they are. Gruff Rhys too, to a lesser extent.
Shame, really. This whole project has to go down as a missed opportunity - for the vocalists to properly branch out, for Gorillaz to push on from two very impressive albums, and for Albarn to make any kind of statement at all on climate change (apparently this is a concept album about global warming - who knew?)