ALBUM: Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

Release Date: March 8th, 2010
Label: Parlophone/Virgin


The post-Blur Damon Albarn continues here for album number three for his animated side-project Gorillaz, notching another stop on his odyssey of “this is 100% my band now, so I’ll do whatever the fuck I want”. Only this time, he doesn’t stop at slick electronic pop-rock-indie type stuff. In fact, he doesn’t stop at anything. This album literally has everything.

The giveaway for this comes before even the album begins. A quick look at the collaborators reveals all. Ranging from the pimp as ever Snoop Dogg, punk icons Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash, former Velvet Underground mumbler and part time feedback conductor Lou Reed to soul singer Bobby Womack, the incoherent Mark E Smith of The Fall and alt hip-hop staples Mos Def and De La Soul to wacky Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys and the grimy Kano. Quite the range certainly.

And the music is just as schizophrenic as that list would imply. You move off the smooth quasi-intro ‘Welcome To The Plastic Beach’ into the part symphonic, part hip-hop ‘White Flag’. And while the varying sounds make it a very interesting listen, the effect can be quite jarring and come across as an attempt to say “here is the people I know and this is the good music we can create”, and while that’s a great idea in theory, cohesive it is not.

One theme that does seem to tie it all together is a seeming move towards hip-hop and almost trip-hop, one such example of both (sort of) being the excellent ‘Stylo’ featuring a great guest turn from Mos Def. It’s not quite Portishead and it certainly isn’t Nas, but it makes for an interesting Glastonbury headlining set. More interesting than what you would have got before they stepped in anyway. So while Gorillaz were always a more interesting blend of indie rock and hip-hop tendencies, they’ve got even more laid back and far less indie, which actually makes everything quite good. When you consider that Gorillaz are somewhere near the edgy side of certain pop listeners, it’s kind of heartening to think of this kind of music taking up shelf space with the likes of Katy Perry and Ne-Yo and God knows what else. I mean, a double punch of weirdness seen in the one-two of ‘Glitter Freeze’ and ‘Some Kind Of Nature’ (fittingly featuring Mark E Smith and Lou Reed, strange old men indeed, respectively) isn’t likely to be found on an Alexandra Burke record any time soon. Although that certainly would be something.

There are a lot of great moments on this album, such as the two Mos Def featuring tracks, the stunning ‘Cloud Of Unknowing’ and various other odd moments and songs scatter throughout this sprawling record. The problem is that while there is a lot of greatness here, it just doesn’t fit together as one package, which objectively as an album makes it a difficult and uncomfortable listen, with some really fantastic moments. Perhaps a poor and ill-thought out metaphor would be like having sex with a drunk girl who keeps coming in and out of consciousness, but I don’t suppose that would be doing an album containing both Snoop Dogg and half of The Clash any justice.

Written by Paul Smith