The great thing about being a cartoon band is that no matter how long your hiatus between albums is, your lineup stays intact. Gorillaz made up of Noodle, 2D, Murdoc, and Russel, are back with their third album, Plastic Beach. After the massive success of their self-titled 2001 debut and its 2005 follow-up, Demon Days, Plastic Beach had a lot to live up to. And the dynamic duo of Blur Frontman Damon Albarn and graphic artist Jamie Hewlett has done it again. With Plastic Beach, their fake band addresses the very real issue of consumerism and the environment by pushing the boundaries of electro-pop in a very unique and modern way.
As with the previous two albums, Plastic Beach jumps between genres while maintaining a consistent vibe that sometimes blends the songs together without much distinction. The orchestral intro brings the listener to the plastic world, before Snoop Dogg welcomes you to “the world of the Plastic Beach” in one of the album’s many guest spots. With Albarn once again providing the vocals for lead singer 2D, the mic is turned over to a mostly new set of collaborators including Mos Def, Bobby Womack, and legendary rocker Lou Reed. The Clash’s Mick Jones and Paul Simonon provide a Sandista! era laidback vibe to the album’s title track.
While not as immediate as previous leadoffs “Clint Eastwood” or “Feel Good, Inc.”, first single “Stylo” is an effortless electronic dream that is enhanced by the vocals of the legendary soulster Womack and hipster rapper Mos Def. Fictional band member Murdoc describes the second single, “Superfash Jellyfish” as a track you “could flood your room with” and the off-the-wall song cascades from the speakers behind Albarn’s opaque production and returning rappers De La Soul, along with Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys. The album’s standout track may be the psychedelic “Some Kind of Nature”, featuring Reed. Of course, some of the true gems are when the immensely talented Albarn takes the reins himself, working his way through dense and luminous ballads like “Melancholy Hill” and “Rhinestone Eyes”, which leave the listener in a sort of disco-synth induced coma.
What was originally a way for Albarn to cast away his identity as the leader of perhaps the 90s defining Britpop band, at least on the other side of the ocean, Gorillaz has quickly become his main project and a stunning tribute to an underappreciated musical genius – his own. Freed from touring and filming music videos by animator Hewlett, Albarn focused on music and not expectations.
In true Gorillaz tradition, Plastic Beach is an album that never stands still. Unlike its predecessors, it manages to be fun while tying together a more serious theme in an astonishingly original way. With many out there and creative reinterpretations of musical genres and themes, Albarn has created an album that parallels its central idea – an island made from recycled human excess that is altogether unique among modern pop music. Pay a visit to this lush Plastic Beach, and expect to want to want to make many return trips.
Plastic Beach is available at all traditional retailers and on the web through Amazon.com and iTunes.