Friday, March 5, 2010

Album Review: Gorillaz - Plastic Beach


Some artists are inspired by retro cinema, many are inspired by the seasons, but I'm quite sure that Damon Albarn is the first musician I have heard of that has been influenced by trash. His latest product, The Gorillaz' (Gorillaz's? Gorilla'z? Gorillazs'?) new album "Plastic Beach," draws its title and much of its subject matter from Albarn's recent encounters with garbage in landfills in London and Mali and the junk littering his beach. Despite how depressing the inclusion of decrepit plastic items in nature sounds, the mastermind and former Blur frontman adopts a surprisingly optimistic (and probably very sarcastic) attitude towards the man-made substance. But forget the concept, how is the music?
The Gorillaz, an animated four humanoid collective, have been responsible for some of the most memorable pop music of the early 21st century-- the most notable being the hip-hop infused hits "Clint Eastwood" and "Feel Good Inc." Nowhere on the new album will you find such radio-ready songs. This is not necessarily a bad thing. A cooler, groovier, more chill vibe that inhabited previous Gorillaz tracks such as "Last Living Souls" and "Tomorrow Comes Today" become fully fledged with Middle Eastern strings, brass bands and trip hop beats. The opener (not counting a minute-long intro) is a building, swirling, head nodder that utilizes wonderful horn stabs and the best Snoop Dogg verse I've heard since "Drop it like it's Hot." Note the line: "Drinking lemonade in the shade/Gettin' blazed with a gang of Pilgrims" which simultaneously reaffirmed the Doggfather as a badass and caused me to LoL at the mental image I was getting.
On the topic of Snoop, one thing that has not changed here is the impressive guest list that always accompanies Gorillaz albums. Albarn was able to drag in some big names that include Mos Def, Lou Reed, De La Soul, 70s soulman Bobby Womack, and two guys from this band called The Clash, making this the most rando collaboration in music since the "Blame It" video. Those weirdo cartoon characters sure make it work though. Unlike Ron Howard's awkward old white dude in the Jamie Foxx video, Lou Reed adopts a creepy-uncle persona (very similar to Dennis Hopper's on "Demon Days") that fuels the dreamy "Some Kind of Nature" and shows that he can still rock with the best.
The best things about this album are the unexpected and beautiful hooks that pop up everywhere- like the 60s-via-the 80s bounce of "On Melancholy Hill" and the keyboard assault on my personal favorite "Rhinestone Eyes." Damon Albarn has never ceased to amaze me (post-Blur, mind you) with his inventive and highly unorthodox album-crafting abilities, but therein also lies this album's slight downside. This will never be recognized as one of the year's best albums because of its inconsistency; not in quality but in style. The most critically acclaimed albums of 2009 (Merriweather Post Pavilion, The xx, Veckatimest) varied very little in sonic style from track to track, unlike this album that regularly transitions from bright oddball pop to downtempo brooding trip hop. The final verdict: one step short of masterpiece, but one of the most listenable collections of eclectica I've heard in a while, and one that will doubtlessly be played on many lazy late nights.

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