Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

The first moment I heard this album, I knew it was going to upset a lot of people. This isn’t the same Gorillaz we knew five years ago. Damon Albarn’s hip-hop and alternative rock side has been shoved on the backburner to make room for a trip-hop side we’ve seldom seen from the old Blur frotnman. Not only that, it’s not pure modest trip-hop, either. To illustrate my meaning, the first track (excluding the intro track arranged by Sinfonia ViVa) “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach” is a collaboration featuring both mellow greetings from Snoop Dogg and an entire brass ensemble. The second track follows with some smooth rhymes offered by Kano and Bashy as well as the, and I quote, “Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music.” If having not one, but several famous musicians, rappers, and even full orchestras working on your project doesn’t immediately come off as pretentious, I don’t know what will.

Don’t think I’m saying that these collaborations are excessive. When they work, boy do they work. When they don’t quite work, it’s easily excusable. Even Lou Reed’s cameo comes off more as classy than incongruous. It’s clear that Albarn’s intentions were not to wow the world with a hefty repertoire of acclaimed musicians, but to forge a highly memorable album rife with ornate musical arrangements and catchy melodies. And he achieves this goal to great effect.

All that aside, however, it seems that on Plastic Beach, Albarn is the most focused he has ever been as Gorillaz, maybe even since Blur’s Think Tank. It’s been a good five years since Demon Days, the home to their commercially successful singles “Dare,” “Kids With Guns,” and of course “Feel Good Inc.,” so everybody knows how high the bar was set for this album. Gorillaz was his initiation into the hip-hop world, Demon Days put him and Jamie Hewlett on the map, and now Plastic Beach is the fruit of all their labor, a piece that feels catchy, creative, and, for the first time, complete.

Despite all the catchy jingles his first two records offered, both of them lacked a sense of direction. The tracks paid no mind to logical sequence, leading to records that demanded dissection rather than immersion. It was much easier to skip right ahead to “Feel Good Inc.” and “Dare” than dig through all the excess padding holding them in place, and if there was any good reason to stick around past “Clint Eastwood” on his debut, it was because you were listening to the record for the first time.

Plastic Beach largely rectifies this, practically demanding that you take the piece as a whole, one track at a time, not because the songs don’t stand well on their own (they do; just listen to “Rhinestone Eyes,” “On Melancholy Hill,” or “Empire Ants”) but because they flow so well in succession. The pacing is much better overall as well, with a fairly even distribution of song strength throughout the record. “To Binge” and “Plastic Beach,” two tracks found towards the end, could just as easily be your favorite track as “Stylo” or “Superfast Jellyfish.” At almost an hour long, not one bit of the record feels burdensome or excessive.

The album is united by a central environmental theme, allegedly inspired by a beach of trash that affected Albarn a while back, hence the title and lines like “Nature’s corrupted in factories far away.” One might worry of the repercussions every famed musician takes when openly taking up a position of environmental consciousness, but the theme actually works rather well at uniting the piece and stays thankfully remote from any audience-dividing exhortations.

With contributions as variegated as famous rappers Mos Def and De La Soul, Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed, electronic musicians Little Dragon, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Womack, and Sinfonia ViVa, Plastic Beach makes for an incredibly diverse musical experience with much to offer. Sixty minutes can quickly disintegrate the moment you step foot on this Plastic Beach, and yet it offers enough memorable content to reward return after return. It seems as if Damon Albarn has finally settled comfortably in his new cartoonish garb, making Gorillaz into the fitting sequitur to Blur everybody expected from the beginning.

by Mason “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way” McGough

1 Comment

  1. New Review! Gorillaz – Plastic Beach « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Gorillaz – Plastic Beach, by Mason McGough […]

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