Album Review: Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

March 10, 2010

Concept: Practically a MGM hip-hop musical from Damon Albarn’s warped “mainstream” imagination on the curious habit of planned obsolescence.

Sound: The strangest thing about Plastic Beach is that it just seems to keep drifting. Its dainty strings, bossa nova cheese, sci-fi pulp, club pop synthesizing, disco chorus, on and on, without ever once reaching the glaring chart-topper people have come to expect from this most indulgent of supergroups. Although this was made to be their ‘poppiest’ work, its steady, detached tone has better achieved what’s unique about Gorillaz than either Demon Days or the self-titled debut. There’s nothing normal or comfortable about movements like Sweepstakes, where whimsical whistling stacks on top of itself until it succumbs to a kind of weightless collapse. They’ve been trying real hard to make some kind of concept-album hip-hop masterpiece, and it’s only in recline on a plastic beach that it seems to be working. They’ve stopped coming to us, and now we have to come to them. Not that you have to — the sleepy, alien feel of the entire album is bound to be a portal to some, a splotch on the wall to others — but this is a new leaf for Gorillaz, with fewer gimmicks and more risks. Nobody can honestly call this album the work of a boy band.

Lyrics: The very few times that Albarn takes the front, the connection is all too clear between this album and psychedelic rock past. Rhinestone Eyes brings out both the flighty surreal freewheeling of Sgt. Pepper and Pink Floyd’s phantasmic fatalism. The funny thing is that he doesn’t seem to quite sympathize with them. Obviously, the game they’re playing is as old as pop itself, but the album’s lyrics are making the right move in gunning for a personal, spiritual focus in spite of the allure of ecstatic fantasy or sociopolitical despair. ‘Oh joys arise/ The sun has come again to hold you/ Sailing out the doldrums of/ the polyphonic prairies/ here, it’s all around you/ It’s all around you, out here/ The falling alcohol empire, is here to hold you/ Ruling out and haunted till it sinks/ Little memories, marching on/ Your little feet, working the machine/ Will it spin, will it soar/ My little dream, working the machine’. The hot bands of the 60’s and 70’s are “dead”, certainly disembodied, and Albarn in trying for a cartoon band might be putting the cart before the horse in the rock god mythos, but I’ll bet he means it when he sings ‘all we are is thoughts‘. What’s more depressing, that he might believe it or that he might wish it were true?

Quick And Dirty: A successful transcendence of their method. It ignores expectations…get it anyway. (♦♦♦♦½)

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