**As you might have noticed, I’ve used the last few weeks to review some older records, mostly because nothing new has come out that I like. This changes next week though, with “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire.
With “Plastic Beach”, Gorillaz is no longer about a wacky cartoon band. Nor are they any longer purely Damon Albarn’s experimental sideproject that happens to churn out a great tune or two. The first clue about these is on the cover itself. Instead of mugshots of Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s ink creations, we’re treated to the mammoth Plastic Beach itself, which looks big enough to hold more people, sounds, and ideas than Gorillaz have put in one album thus far.
And boy are there a lot of ideas here. Not that “self-restraint” has ever been an element of Gorillaz, but they’ve never gone as all out as they do here. “Plastic Beach” isn’t as deliberately hip-hop as the self-titled, nor does it flirt with the rock side of things like “Demon Days”, but instead draws easily overlying lines in the sand between pop and hip-hop with a side of funk every now and then (such as first single Stylo). Albarn handles all of this alone, and he handles it with more concentration and finesse than we’ve seen before. The music is rich, melodic, and is tight all across the board; be it a full synth track or an orchestra.
Gorillaz as a project still centers around Albarn, but there’s plenty of room to play. In fact, it isn’t until the third proper song (the fantastic Rhinestone Eyes) for him to make an appearance; Snoop Dog leads the way with Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach, and then British rappers Kano and Bashy trade off on White Flag. Albarn’s co-conspirators are as various as they are numerous: Bobby Womack and Mos Def both find room to breath on Stylo, De La Soul and Super Furry Animal go nuts on super silly Super Fast Jellyfish, and Albarn is able to croon alongside the godfather of weird Lou Reed on Some Kind of Nature and it’s all sorts of awesome. Half of The Clash even makes an appearance, and this isn’t even everyone.
“Plastic Beach” as an album is stacked. The first ten of sixteen songs are a nearly flawless workout of weird, moody, exuberant pop. There’s a brief lull towards the tail end where things aren’t as dynamic or engaging, but even then the songs are still good on their own. Favorite songs are Rhinestone Eyes, Superfast Jellyfish, On Melancholy Hill, and Cloud of Unknowing. “Plastic Beach” is expansive, gorgeous, catchy, and darker pop at it’s finest. Jump on in, the water’s great. Four and a half stars.
tl;dr: Weird, worrysome, eco-friendly pop every bit as synthetic as its namesake. Maybe not the best album of the year, but damn if it ain’t close.