Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Posted by Kuang on Wed, 14 Apr 2010.
In the five years since their second album Demon Days, the Gorillaz have found themselves living on a strange place called Plastic Beach; a bizarre floating Thunderbirds-like hideout made entirely from all of the junk gathered in from the sea. The drummer has grown to three times his normal size following a long swim to Plastic Beach, and the guitarist now has an evil robot cyber-twin. Never dull, is it?
Gorillaz records have always been twisty and unpredictable and Plastic Beach is no exception, although this time there's a far poppier and more accessible feel than before. Taken individually the tracks are all bright sparkly little things and easy to grasp, but strung out end to end they rapidly leave you behind - even though there's a story underpinning the whole thing, it's less like chapters in a book and more like a cloud of bubbles made entirely of strange that somehow make sense when taken in overdose.
Stylistically, Plastic Beach cover too many bases to be easily defined - you'll get jazz-funk, disco, mellow trance, hip-hop, new wave and the occasional orchestral break. Rather than being confusing and disjointed, this serves to keep things nicely off-balance and interesting. Better still, you have a series of great appearances by Bobby Womack, Mark E. Smith from The Fall, Mos Def, Snoop Dogg, Gruff Rhys from the Super Furry Animals, De La Soul, Bashy & Kano, Yukimi Nagano, and the legendary Lou Reed.
None of these collaborations are wasted either, with all of the artists having the leeway to explore the Gorillaz world in their own ways, and Damon Albarn having the sensitivity and wisdom to go with them. Mos Def turns out a storming performance on the chaotic 'Sweepstakes', Snoop Dogg reins himself in to great effect and shows surprising restraint for 'Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach', and Bobby Womack knocks the ball out of the park with a gutsy soulful take on 'Cloud of Unknowing'.
One of the highlights for me comes with the presence of Pos and Mase from De La Soul, revisiting the territory they trod on previous single 'Feel Good Inc'. This time they're backed by Gruff Rhys on the brilliantly weird 'Superfast Jellyfish' a tribute to microwaveable seafood breakfasts. There's something about De La Soul's delivery and the Gorillaz' quirky arrangements that's a match made in heaven, and here they manage to take a screwball concept and turn it into something that's bizarre, funky and hilarious in equal measures. Nobody else can get away with dragging a vocal line like Pos, and I'd quite happily pay for an entire De La Soul Vs. Gorillaz album to hear more of it.
One thing we also have to mention before wrapping up is Jamie Hewlett's artwork, which is as glorious as ever - he's managed to keep the identities of the virtual band members intact, but still take them off in new and bizarre directions. Depending on which version of the album you buy (there are five) you can also get various 'making of' videos and artwork gallries, and they're well worth it for hardcore fans.
So yes, it's a great collection of slippery and strange tunes designed to paint a cartoon in your mind as they go by, but in some ways that's also the trickiest part to grasp. Every song feels like it's part of a soundtrack for a film that just hasn't been made yet and does a great job of eliciting all sorts of strange and trippy imagery, but it can feel as if they're only weird because you can't see their natural surroundings. If you can get over this 180 degree twist on a traditional soundtrack there's a lot to like. I recommend visiting the website, playing the game you'll find there and having a taste of the tunes.