Under Review: Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

I distinctly remember seeing one of those ‘send check or money order to’ commercials in 2001 for an album by some hip-hop band called Gorillaz.  Without realizing that Blur’s Damon Albarn was one of the band’s creative directors, I quickly dismissed the group as not being something I’d be interested in.  Years later, after I actually listened to Gorillaz and Demon Days, I found myself to be horribly wrong.  Not only were these two albums jam-packed with incredibly smart dub, rap and electronica, they effortlessly walked the thin line between experimentalism and accessibility.  Just a few years ago, Albarn mentioned that the next Gorillaz project might never be and, if it did come about, it probably wouldn’t be called Gorillaz.  I guess I’m not the only one who was wrong about this band.  Plastic Beach, the group’s third album, comes five years after Demon Days, but finding out if it was worth the wait depends on who you ask.  Like the previous albums, Plastic Beach plays like a who’s who of the modern hip-hop, pop and rock worlds, with Albarn roping in some pretty major players to provide vocals and instrumentation.  The first voice on the album belongs to Snoop Dogg, whose “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach” sets the stage for an eerie, late-night groove of a listening experience.  Other hip-hoppers on Plastic Beach include Mos Def (on the powerhouse “Sweepstakes”) and De La Soul, who also appeared on Demon Days’ breakout “Feel Good, Inc.”

While there seem to be more rhymes and fewer choruses on Plastic Beach, the rock and pop collaborators far outnumber the rappers.  The bouncy “Some Kind Of Nature” features a growling Lou Reed, and The Fall leader Mark E. Smith contributes some characteristically militant interjections to the house-ready “Glitter Freeze.”  Also appearing are Bobby Womack (“Stylo,” “Cloud Of Unknowing”) and, buried somewhere in the title track, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon.  Just like on Gorillaz and Demon Days, there is a little bit of gratuitous filler on Plastic Beach: the scatterbrained “White Flag” and the languid first half of the too-long “Empire Ants” being the worst offenders.  Still, as the record is clearly meant to work as a whole (instead of a bunch of singles), the forgettable is balanced out by the incredibly strong.  Many of those incredibly strong moments are when Albarn takes the spotlight, giving us tremendously great pieces like “On Melancholy Hill” and “Rhinestone Eyes.” Another major standout is the tropical “To Binge,” which mostly features Swedish popsters Little Dragon until Albarn steals the show in the end with his trademark heart-wrenched moan.  Plastic Beach is not as immediately catchy a record as Gorillaz’ other two, but, in terms of creativity and musicality, it’s undoubtedly one of Albarn’s strongest works.

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~ by E. on March 8, 2010.

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