Devotees to SiA will note that I am a huge Damon Albarn fan. I inch closer and closer to getting that Blur tattoo I’ve long debated. That said, I always take his more popular side-project, Gorillaz, somewhat lightly. Gorillaz is clearly his more electronic side, which I’ve always felt was not his strongest suit. However, every Goriallz LP always manage to leave me with a few songs that consistently come up in rotation. After the 2005 release of Demon Days, rumor had it that Gorillaz was only going to exist one more time, in a film no less. But here I am, holding another full-blown Gorillaz LP in 2010. While it may not be Albarn’s/Gorillaz’ most musical cohesive album to date, it certainly is the most adventurous and intricate since Blur’s 13 back in 1999.
To say that Plastic Beach may shock you at first is a serious understatement. The first time I put the album on, I sat on my floor, stunned for the first 15 minutes. A: I forgot Snoop Dogg was on the opening track B: It is so very different from previous Gorillaz efforts C: I was drinking my iced coffee too fast and may have suffered brain freeze. But really, Albarn really threw the world a curve with this album. From the opening funkadelic cut (“Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach”) to the oriental-stringed hip-hop (“White Flag”) and all the way in to the electronic-only groove that is “Glitter Freeze.” It took me a good 4 listens to really let these numbers sink in, because the shift can be a little hard to follow at first. Plastic Beach also marks the first Gorillaz album where previous Albarn projects start to combine. The previously mentioned “White Flag” clearly came after the Chinese opera he wrote the music for last year, and I mistook “On Melancholy Hill” for a Good, The Bad and The Queen b-side.
While I do applaud Gorillaz for not stepping back into the same sound that the previous albums carried, the variety carried on the 57 minutes of Plastic Beach is pretty much the weak link of the album. The complete tonal and instrumental shift that takes place song after song can make it a little difficult to sit through. By the time you reach the “meh” song that is “Sweepstakes,” Plastic Beach may have started to wash away from you. My first few listens, the final 20ish minutes were all a blur (no pun intended), as my brain started to simply tune it out. It took me several listens to really focus on the end of the record, even though I love “Plastic Beach” (feat. Clash-ites Paul Simonon and Mick Jones!!!). But the album does carry some great tunes with it: “Rhinestone Eyes,” “Empire Ants,” and “Broken” are insanely good.
To put it plainly, Plastic Beach is a bold Gorillaz album that has a jarring opening, a great middle and a distant close. And unlike previous efforts, there’s really no big singles, other than “Stylo,” to be found. And the only thing binding the album together is it’s very apparent environmental stand point. But I wouldn’t say the album is a failure, I quite enjoy/respect Plastic Beach more than any other Gorillaz release. It just took a lot of dedication and close listens to really sink in. Plus, it’s nice to hear Lou Reed’s voice again.