Available on: Parlophone LP
There’s a paradox at the heart of Gorillaz that makes them a little difficult to take seriously. On the one hand, their cartoon band artifice, and elaborate Jamie Hewlett animations allow their hip-hop indebted experimental pop tracks to enter the homes and affections of those who would never normally dream of listening to rap, whether that be kids or staunch guitar band followers. On the other, the 2-D factor means that it’s hard to engage with the music, when there’s a figurative, and literal, screen between the listener and the act.
It’s a shame, because at their best, Gorillaz can be an arresting proposition, and occasionally brilliant. Like predecessor Demon Days, Plastic Beach is patchy, packed to the gills with guests, and pivoted around a “save the ecology” theme. First single ‘Stylo’ is a definite highlight — a surprising departure into slow, low cosmic disco with an infectious bubbling sub acid synth line, augmented by the outrageous vox of Bobby Womack and a phoned-in cameo from Mos Def. ‘Welcome To The World Of Plastic Beach’, with Snoop Dogg and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, is a crawling, creeping, atmospheric electro funk cut, with the Doggfather’s lazy tones mixing well with Damon Albarn’s vocodered harmonies. ‘White Flag’ is a lush, Orientally orchestrated epic with grimesters Bashy and Kano trading verses over cute bleepin’ beats. ‘Rhinestone Eyes’ is one of the few tracks where Damon’s character is allowed to breathe over huge, epic synths, and is a far more emotional effort than anything they’ve produced thus far, while the glistening electronica of ‘Empire Ants’, with Little Dragon, is the best of the bunch.
But the much-mooted guest appearances of Lou Reed and Mark E Smith are pointless — they’re barely noticeable — and with so many guests across the course of the album, it’s difficult to know who Gorillaz really are. There are treasures to be found here, but as an album, ‘Plastic Beach’ has too much filler to sustain your attention across its length. And though Damon may want to sneak his save the planet message through via the easily digestible cartoon format, it actually prevents us from engaging emotionally with the subject.