Review Summary: Plastic Beach is another album from hip-hop's eclectic superheroes; this time their eclecticism can occasionally come across as contrived, and the tracks often meander. However, Gorillaz fail to make a bad album. Plastic Beach is flawed, yes, but enjoyabl
Hip-hop, the new generation's aural experiment in the manufactured image, has proven time and time again that it's on a slippery slope to the land of no return. Rehashed electronics and otiose beats run amok on the radio, infecting the mind's of our country's particularly impressionable youth. Rather than politically, or even emotionally charged, the tracks from artists such as New Boyz and the infamous Lil Wayne are charged with only hormonal stupidity. These insipid bands-and therefore the songs and albums they create-lack taste and originality. This genre is stagnant and dying.
So what could Gorillaz do to stop it? If their virtual image was to say anything about their emotional and experimental qualities, Gorillaz would undoubtedly deliver another devastating blow to hip-hop. However, Gorillaz shined. Despite their anime-styled characters and the state of their genre, said band manifested the experimental image within their first two albums, Gorillaz
and Demon Days
. The latter album would show a development of their eclectic style. Fusing hip-hop, disco, jazz, acoustic, and electronic together could prove disastrous for many Grammy-nominated bands, but Gorillaz made it just work. They were able to alternate between a resplendent and somber approach (“El Manana”), a more straightforward hip-hop sound (“Feel Good Inc.”), and a quaint eclectic hodgepodge (“Dirty Harry”). Garnering critical acclaim and even Grammy awards, their third album titled Plastic Beach
would certainly fly off the shelves. However, would this album compare with their previous fares?
Enter Plastic Beach
, Gorillaz's third album. Graced with an absurd number of guest appearances, common sense would suggest an exceptionally original and grandiose effort. Instead, Gorillaz defy common sense with an album that sounds like a less heartfelt and vigorous carbon copy of their first two albums. Case in point: “Stylo” sounds like a monotonous and homogeneous Demon Days
B-side, complete with disco and hip-hop tinge. Even with an electric performance by Bobby Womack, the track seems to be a stagnant cesspool of ideas. Those ideas never develop into much more than a really catchy track complete with pulsating beats and soaring vocals. A byproduct of this lack of musical development is the very notable faux-exoticism that runs amok on Plastic Beach
. Attempts at including an Arabian orchestra on “White Flag” are contrived, and the track suffers the same problems that Stylo does. The track as a whole is like a plateau in the way that the much needed climax is nowhere to be found. Contrived, anticlimactic attempts at eclecticism are abound. Despite their presence, there are some examples of Gorillaz refining their genre-bending eccentricities.
One example of this is “Empire Ants”. Splashed with a subdued vocal performance courtesy of Little Dragon, this track balances eclecticism with flair and resplendence beautifully. Subtlety is key here, as the contrasting genre-juxtaposition is tasteful, akin to that shown in “El Manana”. Also attempts at integrating transethnic music into the genre-mash of Plastic Beach
can be tasteful. '80s era UK synthpop works its way into “On Melancholy Hill.” Post-World War II German Elektronische Musik also makes an unexpected visit on Plastic Beach
. With the effective oscillation between cold pitch and eerie buzz, Gorillaz shine. And yes, the pop and rock influences are still used well. The various tones that Damon Albarn uses make this album accessible and enjoyable as do the scores of hooks displayed on this album. Basically, it comes down to the fact that Gorillaz have continued to provide their listeners with eclecticism and catchiness on their third outing. However, with their signature qualities they have brought contrived affairs and meandering song structures. Therefore, Plastic Beach
is an album that is flawed, yet very enjoyable.