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Album Review
Plastic Beach

Plastic Beach
by Gorillaz


Review Date
29th March 2010
Reviewed by
Gareth Meade

To obtain a glimpse inside Damon Albarn’s mind would be a wondrous thing, such is the overabundance of ideas he seems to conjure up and subsequently be involved in. And in some ways it’s for that reason that a third Gorillaz album seemed like an unlikely prospect. Even, as it turns out, for Albarn and accomplice Jaime Hewlett who had originally planned on something much grander; a piece of work that would retain their trademark collaborations, but lose the animated misfits who front their virtual band. But when that project (reportedly entitled Carousel) didn’t pan out, a new Gorillaz album is what we’ve received instead.

And thank goodness for that, because even with his enviable list of credentials, Gorillaz is Damon Albarn’s most enjoyably consistent post-Blur output to date. And enjoyment really is the key here, as it’s hard to think of a recent release more entertaining than Plastic Beach.

Ostensibly a ‘pop’ album, there is actually a wider accumulation of ideas and styles here than any other album than would garner that association. In fact, in balancing such incompatible elements as grime artists Bashy and Kano with The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music (on White Flag) or Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys with De La Soul (on Superfast Jellyfish), and still making it palatable to its audience is something that Gorillaz have only ever been able to pull off. Even though both their self-titled debut and follow-up Demon Days set the precedent for incongruous collaborations, rarely has it worked as well as it does across the majority of Plastic Beach.

Not that the album is faultless. The scene-setting Orchestral Intro gives way to the real introduction, Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach, whose contribution from Snoop Dog feels a little tacked on, and definitely not the titillating prospect it appears on paper. Similarly, as the album continues with White Flag, the song is interesting and as mentioned above, a real coup to even be listenable, but it’s not really until the one, two, three punch of Rhinestone Eyes, Stylo and Superfast Jellyfish that the album really explodes into life. While the latter two have already made the rounds as singles, it wouldn’t be surprising if Rhinestone Eyes makes its way to radio as well; the erratic synth and customary droning from Albarn’s Gorillaz persona are thoroughly irresistible.

After the disappointing Glitter Freeze (featuring The Fall’s Mark E. Smith), and the utterly brilliant Lou Reed collaboration Some Kind of Nature, the album swings between introspection and its populist intentions. It doesn’t again reach the giddy heights of its midsection, but nor does it try too. It becomes less about the guests and more about showcasing Albarn’s vocal talent, spinning tales on the Hot Chip-esque On Melancholy Hill and the superb To Binge.

Before Plastic Beach comes to a close, we are treated to Bobby Womack’s distinctive croon on Cloud of Unknowing, and then Albarn finishes things off with the flippant Pirate Jet. And really, before you know it, close to an hour of your time has disappeared. Gorillaz has always been about immersion, whether it’s via the Hewlett illustrated world they inhabit, or the idiosyncratic music Albarn creates. And Plastic Beach is their most immersive and best album yet.

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