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Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

Gorillaz Plastic Beach



Damon Albarn is a lot of things but lazy isn’t one of them. The last Gorillaz album, 2005’s Demon Days, spawned a couple crossover hits—especially “Feel Good Inc.”—and Albarn solidified himself as a major part of the pop world for a second straight decade whether or not he was the face of the band. But rather than rest, he released The Good, The Bad & The Queen with his British supergroup in 2007 and then wrote the music (and again collaborated with Gorillaz artist Jamie Hewlett) for Monkey: Journey To The West, a Chinese opera. If Blur’s last album, 2003’s Think Tank, seemed dominated by Albarn’s sole influence in the absence of longtime guitarist and songwriting partner Graham Coxon, all of these new projects served to confirm a change of approach—Albarn’s newfound habit of stepping out of the spotlight. It was a notion hinted at by Gorillaz’ past records, where even if he is the brains behind the operation, Albarn isn’t the face of it, or at least he shares the credit with others.

So it doesn’t come as a surprise that Plastic Beach, the much-delayed third Gorillaz album, continues this trend and saturates nearly every track with diverse guest leads. This means that chamber orchestra Sinfonia ViVa, Bobby Womack, and Snoop Dogg sit alongside Lou Reed and The Clash’s Paul Simonon and Mick Jones. Collecting such an eclectic and idiosyncratic group of talents under one umbrella may suggest that Plastic Beach is an erratic, unfocused listen—which is occasionally true—but it is surprisingly cohesive due to Albarn’s master collaborative skills.

In fact, some of the most successful moments on the album are the products of ambitious collaboration. “Stylo,” a demented electro-disco number, features an explosive vocal from Bobby Womack, and De La Soul, who previously contributed to Demon Days‘ hit “Feel Good Inc.,” return for the sweet pop of “Superfast Jellyfish.” Meanwhile, Swedish electronic group Little Dragon duet with Albarn on two of the album’s most gorgeous tracks, “Empire Ants” and “To Binge,” and Mos Def navigates the spiraling orchestration courtesy of the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble on “Sweepstakes.” Add to this the couple of tracks where Albarn sings solo, Plastic Beach offers plenty to digest in its dizzying display of talent.

True, some may have qualms with the fact that Albarn himself is pushed off into the background for much of the album. After all, he is the voice of the band, and many of the songs that sound closer to Gorillaz’ past work (“On Melancholy Hill,” “Broken,” and the superb “Rhinestone Eyes”) feature no collaborations at all and are uniformly more pop-minded than most of the record. So, ultimately, Plastic Beach ends up being the least accessible Gorillaz record—this one won’t churn out a “Feel Good Inc.,” or a “Clint Eastwood”—and easily the most eclectic. But the collaborations certainly don’t hurt the record, and given the high quality of Plastic Beach, it is unlikely that any fan will be disappointed regardless of what one feels about Albarn’s new musical direction.