CD Review: Gorillaz, “Plastic Beach”

We’re apparently in the third phase of the amalgamated rap/alterna-hip hop/techno/rock ensemble evolution that is Gorillaz. In case you don’t much keep up with Damon Albarn, when the Britpop icon isn’t entertaining with Blur or The Good, the Bad and the Queen, he’s been known to operate the strings that pull and guide all things Gorillaz. It’s been about five years since the last full-fledged Gorillaz album, but luckily cartoon characters don’t age much, so the new album, Plastic Beach, has the same exuberance and bravado as all their previous releases.

What’s different about this outing, though, is the lack of any easily recognizable “band” instruments. Let me clarify that last statement: unlike on the last two Gorillaz albums, you’d be hard pressed to find any songs on Plastic Beach that you could play on guitar. Make sense? Albarn has spent the better part of the past three years touring with the ego-shy super-group The Good, the Bad and the Queen, an endeavour that has made him suppress his more hip hop-oriented tendencies. As a result, Plastic Beach sounds like a celebration of sorts. It is both indulgent and earnest in its genuine love for the music it’s making. The album opens with a short orchestral number then transitions into a series of collaborative efforts that feature the likes of Snoop Dogg, Bashy, Kano, Bobby Womack, De La Soul, Mos Def and Lou Reed. You get the feeling that Albarn and company were really excited to get back to their Gorillaz personae and put this thing together.

The concept of the album is that there’s a place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where musicians from around the world come to play together. Luckily, the compilation as a whole never sounds schizophrenic or without identity. Actually, thanks to Albarn’s Gorillaz–vision, everything seems perfectly in place: Lou Reed compliments Snoop Dogg like peanut butter does jam. This feels like the kind of album you can safely keep in regular rotation until your friends are forced to intervene and pry it from your death grip.

5 stars out of 5