Review Summary: Cheese and Crackerz
was one of the first CDs I ever owned. As a largely clueless creature of nine years, I was drawn to the art; moreso to the cool catz cruising in a geep on the cover than the bared breastz present somewhere within the booklet – these were an affront to my prepubescent sensibilitiez, and were promptly trimmed and binned. I wasn't capable of thinking too hard about, well, anything at the time, but my chaste disgust at a pair of cartoon nipz and unlearned confusion about the delicate genre-blending contained on that dope camo CD-ROM smackz to me of a conundrum that still followz Gorillaz 22 yearz later: just what the fuck is this project supposed to be and who is it for?
If you're here on Earth, you're probably as familiar with The Rise of the Music of the Apez as you are with The Fall
. Across a two album stretch Gorillaz had cracked the conundrum and crafted some influential and emblematic art. The project'z prevailing direction was surreal, a space where childlike wonder conversed with indirect politicz, the imaginary battled against the real, and the curation of wide-ranging soundz and featurez felt so unique as to be unrivalled, so natural as to be predestined.
is the fourth album Gorillaz have released since their 2017 return from hiatus; a six-year span that now containz as many LPz as their initial ten-year run. It is a continuation of what has been a perplexing identity crisis for the outfit, each release a unique attempt to consolidate Gorillaz' widening gap between their conceptual framework and their musical reality: Humanz
a bloated attempt at the legacy approach, The Now Now
narrowing and focussing genre influencez into something more (or less) intimate, Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez
aiming to recapture the lightning in a bottle of quickfire collaboration. Each had its own successez and failurez, and none have made a strong case as an Album Experience that definez a new era for Gorillaz.
is the safest bet that Gorillaz 2.0 have made yet. It featurez featurez, is not egregiously long, and—although its worst momentz are mired in languid and lackadaisical synthpop—it is sonically diverse and interesting. The loose concept sees our cartoon heroez become involved in a cult that is—stop me if you've heard this before—largely inspired by recent eventz involving social media and alt-right echo cham
Huh? You have heard that before? Well, have you heard that “it's a cracked screen world
”? That “individual actionz change the world / fill them up with love[!]
” Yeah, that's kinda what we're dealing with here. Obviously I'm foraging for dudz, but when lyricz like this roll their way over the aforementioned languidity, it makes it particularly hard to resist weaponising track titlez like “The Tired Influencer” to prove a point which I can't help but find irony in; that a purportedly (sort of) digital band struggle to creatively convey digital themez. Yeesh. With that, we'll leave the conceptual framework and political implications for an inclusive and incisive conversation that you can have in the commentz.
Meanwhile, musically, proceedingz are initiated by yet another
exemplary feature from Thundercat on “Cracker Island”. Delaying the entry of his song-defining bassline servez to outline its influence on the direction of the track, and Albarn'z immovable, almost robotic lead vocal melody pairs with woozy sub-bass to destabilise the jolly good funking being dished out by the guitar and bass. Elsewhere, “Skinny Ape” is the worst idea Gorillaz have ever had, yet, somewhere in between its humble folksy beginningz and its uptempo dance anthem ending, it winds up being completely and utterly lovable. “Possession Island” sees Albarn and Beck coming together for a perfectly lovely and earnest duet loaded with heart-rending harmony and delicate dynamic shifts to bring the album to a serene, glorious, and sad conclusion.
Most of the remaining highlightz require more patience to penetrate. “Baby Queen” amicably capturez a dreamlike nostalgia in its back end, but you have to trudge through an oddly out-of-universe story about Albarn meeting/dreaming about the Princess of Thailand in order to get there. Stonerz the world over will no doubt enjoy [everything, provided provisionz] the much-anticipated collaboration with Tame Impala, “New Gold”, but the track windz up attempting to fold its constituent partz on top of each other, falling short of the brainswirling milieu it's shooting for. Here, and on another couple of occasionz, it feelz as if explorative songwriting is being neglected on Cracker Island
in favour of pissing out a three-minute puddle of v i b e z
and calling it a day.
Regardless of whether you consider Gorillaz best dayz to be behind them, their deserved influence guaranteez that each album they drop will land like a monolith amongst the simianz. Some dickhead like me will inevitably pick up a bone and we'll fall into bickering, but we'll make like bonoboz eventually, kiss and make up, reflect on the good timez as we pick the nitz from each otherz fur, sprawl slack in each otherz' armz, contented. Cracker Island
is a perfectly good album made for an active audience larger and more diverse than most artistz could ever dream of having. There's a good chance that my favouritez won't be yourz; that Cady Siregar of Consequence of Sound will give it a perfect score; that somebody somewhere will decide they're too old for this shit now; that some nine-year-old kid will be terrified by 2-D's cultmad image on the cover art, and, unable to trim and bin the image as if it were the year 2001 and they actually owned a CD, simply close their eyez and enter the harmonic realm, become a lifelong fan of a project that is so hopelessly ambitious as to be inspiring even in its misfirez.