Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Label: Virgin Records
Release Date: March 3rd, 2010
Forever, the Gorillaz have just been a cartoon-faced group that surfaced through catchy pop tunes and were taken as a joke at face value. This premature evaluation led to Damon Albarn becoming overlooked as the mastermind behind the fictional group. After a number of radio friendly singles, chart topping albums, and collaboration with two of the best producers in the game, the group are finally back with a change of pace. Murdoc and the boys aren't just your ordinary cartoons, they are real in a matter of speaking and have crafted an album that is more serious than half of the band's rivaling artists.
The first thing that is noticeable about Plastic Beach is that it doesn't have radio appeal similar to the previous albums. Cutting the cord from past album producers Dan The Automator and Dangermouse, it is ironic enough that this is Gorrilaz strongest work to date. Albarn took over the producing reigns and created music that isn't just an audible experience, but a visual one as well. Plastic Beach is a full blown hip-hop/trip-hop album and a prime example of how to stray away from one genre to dominate another. If Albarn has done anything with this project, he has shown his knowledge of flawless production and the ability to create aesthetically pleasing tunes.
Plastic Beach begins with a whimsical, orchestrated intro that is capable of putting movie scores to shame, bringing up the question why Albarn hasn't already scored movies. Snoop Dogg makes a guest appearance on "Welcome To The World of The Plastic Beach" which is a great indicator of what is to come. "White Flag" again demonstrates Albarn's musical control and exuberance as Bashy and Kano do the honors to top off the track.
Finally Murdoc appears four songs deep on "Rhinestone Eyes", which may appear to sound completely irrational and perhaps out of place but works perfectly within the record. "Stylo" features a heavy synth bass line, a full blown 80s beach groove mixed with the most delicate trance vibes, and is backed by Mos Def who closes the song in true form. De La Soul's influence is completely obvious and appreciated on "Superfast Jellyfish" as it stands out as one of the most pop-orientated songs on Plastic Beach, following through with the theme of the album.
Beauty isn't a word that has been used to describe Gorillaz at any point, but things have changed and currently this statement is no longer valid. "Empire Ants" is one of, if not the best Gorillaz song to date. Straying away from their bass centered pop tunes, Albarn has teamed up with Swedish synth rockers Little Dragon to create a musical landscape that triumphs high above other trance/trip hop artists. "Glitter Freeze" is a over the top, four minute synthesizer extravaganza.
Legend Lou Reed donates vocals to "Some Kind of Nature" in such natural fashion that Gorillaz sound like they might be his own personal project. "On Melancholy Hill" flows so nicely that it is over before you can even fully appreciate its true beauty. On an album overtaken by slow relaxed beats, Murdoc sings us into a "feel good" musical coma, and solidifies the song as an instant classic. The infectious vacation that is "On Melancholy Hill" is short lived as "Broken" brings you back down to earth, but softer than ever. "Sweepstakes" is the only real misstep on Plastic Beach as clashing drums, fast paced electronics, and overbearing vocals from Mos Def leave a lot to be desired from the match sent from heaven.
The title track embodies everything the record wishes and wants to display. The slow introduction is like witnessing a slow-motion Quentin Tarrantino showdown that quickly switches over to the hypnotic wonderland that has been filling your ears for the past twelve tracks. Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash add a little star appeal to the track. "To Binge" features Little Dragon once again, creating unmatchable soundscapes. Bobby Womack comes across as the narrator for "Clouds of Unknowing" as his deep and quirky voice compete with the orchestration for the spotlight.
Finally the album comes to a close with "Pirate Jet", the most diabolical song on the album. While the band has been known for the antics in their music, they haven't appeared until now. Up-to-no-good synth lines and electronic beeps show signs of where the band has been and where they are now, and it couldn't be any better. 2D, known for his quick tongue, brings Plastic Beach to an end with a few weary lines while leaving a taste of something that you have been missing for quite some time.
If there was one theme for Plastic Beach as a whole, it would be irony. Irony for the fact that it wasn't even supposed to be a Gorillaz album, and that even without top notch producers, Albarn has mastered his fictional creation to a completely new level. For cartoons, Gorillaz are more real than others without even trying, so who's comical now?