By at 11:53 AM Wednesday, March 3rd 2010


Strange Waves On Plastic Beach

Gorillaz, Reviews


Plastic Beach, Gorillaz‘ third album, does not arrive lightly. Ambitious, avant-garde and about as complex in flavor as a mouthful of Jelly Bellys, the album isn’t nearly as pop friendly as the first two Gorillaz releases; there’s little to no sign of the 19-2000‘s or Feel Good Inc‘s of yesteryear. There are strange new peaks, however, that simply dismiss outright commercial appeal ambition. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but evolution in the Gorillaz universe has never taken a linear path.

Jamie Hewlett provides the crucial visual aspect, but after liftoff it’s truly the Damon Albarn Project – he writes, produces, sings and plays most of the music, enlisting the supplemental powers of the single most comprehensive and bizarre collection of guests ever united on an album: Snoop Dogg, De La Soul, Lou Reed, the Clash’s Mick Jones and Mos Def all contribute, among others, with love-jam grandpa Bobby Womack lacing his inimitable soul-engine vocals through two tracks.

Opening to the sounds of waves crashing, seagulls squawking and a foghorn off in the distance, giving way to Snoop’s dub-funk, world-ending introduction on Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach. It makes for a comical first impression, rhyming “in focus” with “the world is so hopeless” with perfectly pimpilicious pessimism.

Rhinestone Eyes is a dreamy, stony walk down a diamond shore, sippin’ the codeine while the drums slap slow & wet in the background and bright synth colors swirl between beats. It’s an early album highlight, abstract poetic imagery like “your rhinestone eyes are like factories far away” sprinkled with a sigh through the tropical haze. The easy vibrations are directly in line with the Gorillaz sound we’ve become such junkies for, leading into complex genre-mashing first single Stylo:

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

The track starts off bright, kicking in with a synth riff and Mos Def spitting a welcome ramp-up rhyme to Albarn’s gentle flow. His bell-bottom wail is remarkable, but once Womack starts in it’s hard to feel anything but a muted sense of misplaced blaxploitation-callback jive, a la Jackie Brown. It’s a soul explosion where none is warranted, a burst of love revolution from left field, leading back into a Mos verse.

The album’s an immensely clever jumble, but what’s missing from Plastic Beach is the thickness to the core Gorillaz element, a central gravity beyond the shiny-junkyard-of-the-future gimmickry. Rather than centrally focusing on 2D and Murdoc, the songs are a patchwork of effects and electro-rap synth-orchestra dubbiness built around a loose future-environmental theme and guest appearances. Gruff Rhys and De La Soul feature on fun Spongebobbish rap-slap Superfast Jellyfish, which comes off as equal parts commercial spoof and annoying cartoon decimation of fast food culture. The chorus is an infectious ditty that digs into your head like a shiny happy little tick. As I said when the track first surfaced, it sounds like Z-Trip, De La Soul and Albarn got together to write a commercial jingle while candyflipping with a gallon of Mr. Bubble.

Empire Ants would be a better transition from Rhinestone Eyes, with Little Dragon’s offbeat melody buoying sweetly over a beautifully shimmering groove, buzzy bass and twinkling synths. It’s further evidence that Albarn’s collaboration choices are, on paper, a schizophrenic patchwork of madness, but once set in motion a brilliant lightshow of talent sets a new high-water mark for collective efforts. A highlight performance arrives in the form of Lou Reed rapping, “Well, me, I like plastics and digital foils” and trying to protect the girls from spiritual poisons over a chemical bounce on Some Kind of Nature, with oddly inspirational lyrics of a man trying to make the best of the commercial-industrial wasteland around him. It’s a fascinating animal, a futuristic star-lounge jam with sunshine on the mind.

Addictive beats, otherworldly effects and the occasional super-gravitational black hole of a hook ensure that Plastic Beach will be held in high regard. The 80’s love-pop throwback instrumentation of On Melancholy Hill is heart-brimmingly adorable and as catchy as any ditty Air’s come up with, as Albarn’s Vicodin tenor softly washes through in passive fashion.

There’s kneejerk fault to be found in the missed opportunity for a smash hit, but ultimately it’s missing the point entirely. Plastic Beach is a snapshot of a wildly colorful jungle of influence & inspiration, a futuristic clusterfuck that takes repeated listens to settle in – but once the clouds of alien adaptation break, a strange new sun shines through, and the Gorillaz soar to entirely new heights.



Plastic Beach

Released: 9/03/2010
Label: Virgin Records
1. Orchestral Intro (featuring Sinfonia ViVA)
2. Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach (feat. Snoop Dogg & Hypnotic Brass Ensemble)
3. White Flag (feat. Kano, Bashy & The National Orchestra For Arabic Music)
4. Rhinestone Eyes
5. Stylo (feat. Bobby Womack & Mos Def)
6. Superfast Jellyfish (feat. Gruff Rhys & De La Soul)
7. Empire Ants (feat. Little Dragon)
8. Glitter Freeze (feat. Mark E Smith)
9. Some Kind Of Nature (feat. Lou Reed)
10. On Melancholy Hill
11. Broken
12. Sweepstakes (feat. Mos Def & Hypnotic Brass Ensemble)
13. Plastic Beach (feat. Mick Jones & Paul Simonon)
14. To Binge (feat. Little Dragon)
15. Cloud Of Unknowing (feat. Bobby Womack And Sinfonia ViVA)
16. Pirate Jet

Meanwhile, On The Internet...

  1. As you know, we have somewhat different opinions on this album but I’m glad it kind of “clicked” for you after a few listens. The Little Dragon tracks are the highlights for me, but the entire thing is so oddly cohesive that I can’t help but love it.

  2. Skwerl says:

    that stylo video is the shit.

  3. Jan says:

    Very nice review for a strangely addictive album. Lovely for a complete listen-trough on a long drive at night. Now all we need is a warm summer evening, to enjoy it even more.

    It was probably a wise decision to leave White Flag and Sweepstakes out of the review. I really don’t know what to make of those two tracks..

  4. Michael says:

    When I look at Bruce Willis now I realize that there are only a few select actors who can actually pull off the action hero role.
    Vin Diesel and The Rock don’t cut it for me.
    The real action heroes were put out to pasture (Eastwood) going to be put out to pasture soon (Willis) or planning something big after a gubernatorial tenure.

    …Oh, and that video owns all.

  5. stu says:

    gonna have to give it a listen.
    you guys should check out a band called big light btw

  6. My god man…. yeah, I checked out Big Light – and in a few years, they might have their shit together a little more. But as for now…. no.

  7. Thor Man says:

    I have to admit at first I wrote this whole album off after my first listen. Then I decided to put my trust in Damon and listen to it a few more times. Now I cant stop listening to it. And that video is top-notch. great review Johnny

  8. Thanks man. Much appreciated.

  9. gamejerk says:

    I have been waiting for this album to leak for months now. Now that it has, i can’t bring myself to listen to it for some reason. I think i’ll wait for the CD/DVD combo to arrive from Amazon before i give it a listen W/proper headphones and whatnot. Something I don’t even do for Pearl Jam. I’m as confused as you are.

  10. Thor Man says:

    Give the reissue of Ten a good sit down with those headphones. You’ll scream like a school girl and love them all over again.

  11. Kevin says:

    I can’t figure out why I like this album. It has some kind of golden, mesmerizing glow pulling me in. Great review. Kudos Gorillaz.

  12. tng/dharma69 says:

    No Gorillaz afficianodo, here. All I can say to this is “thumbs down”. Still makes me sleepy and will not get a repeat listen from me.

  13. Rob says:

    No mention of Mark E. Smith’s appearance? thats poor show Johnny, his vocals are mesmerizing on it.

    also, Thor Man made me laugh (Pearl Jam suck dick).

  14. Thor Man says:

    Oh now he didn’t. You wanna handle this johnny? We have a blasphemer in the congregation.

  15. Everybody’s allowed to dislike whatever band – no real beef there – but I’d like to hear from Rob what’s particularly mesmerizing about someone’s vocals on an instrumental track.

  16. Rob says:

    “It was the glitter freeze…” at 1:35 onwards. If you haven’t picked up so far, I’m talking about Glitter Freeze, track 8. Maybe its just cause I’m a big Fall fan i’m noticing, but you didn’t seem to pay much attention to the track at all.

  17. Rob says:

    I just enjoyed hearing such a legend appear on a song like that – it was unexpected, and its always good to know he’s still around after the what 28 albums he’ll have put out in April when Your Future Our Clutter drops.

    I forgot that you lumped The Cure, morrisey and all the other “80’s throwbacks” as laughable on that Kim Gordon painting article a while back though, so pardon my tone. Post-Punk and the bands it influenced in the late seventies to early eighties, Joy Division to the Bunnymen… but now I’m rambling. Sorry for using the word “vocals”, I should have rightly said voice.

  18. Rob says:

    or words even. Consider for a second where the influence for the “Repitition” of Albarn’s music and lyrics with Gorillaz would’ve arisen from. You’re totally right though, anyone can diss any band like don’t enjoy, its just that your tastes annoy me a little bit sometimes. Interesting journalism nonetheless. Peace x

  19. Actually, no, I’d still like to hear what was mesmerizing about the vocals on Glitter Freeze. Smith could’ve been absolutely anyone – he spoke two sentences in the song. It was a token appearance. Don’t tell me that’s a relevant contribution in any way beyond name alone. The song is easily the weakest link on the album – it wasn’t a track-by-track review, and as such I selectively spoke about tracks that served the point I was sending across. I enjoyed the album. Hence the review/rating.

    Furthermore, I said nothing whatsoever of the Cure *or* Morrissey in my Kim Gordon piece – but it’s clear that solid information is not your strong suit, Rob. Or were you referring to the comments below it, where I praised the Cure?

    Your post-punk enlightenment is utter bullshit, and your “facts” & assumptions are completely inaccurate.

  20. Rob says:

    Geez, sorry for respecting the guy.

  21. Rob says:

    And you can’t call my “assumptions” completely inaccurate without assuming a lot either, bud. Tomato tomatto, the album’s good, and Glitter Freeze is by no count of the imagination the weakest link dude, the 3rd track’s completely escaped my memory it sucked so hard compared to the rest, and i’ve listened to the thing as a whole a couple times now

  22. Rob says:

    and I stopped myself before even attempting to issue any facts because the argument on genres and all that was irrelevant to appreciating this album itself, especially as its so label-less in its style – i just felt like pointing out that you missed what was to me, and obviously to other people (check the comments to your pre-review article) an important area of the album. Even as an instrumental its worth talking about, at least more than the “clusterfuck” of Plastic Beach

  23. Man, take your half-cocked ideas elsewhere. You got pissy because I called you out for attempting to use my own words against me – words I never said, making your information – and your argument – completely invalid. You tried to discredit my work with inaccurate information that you completely made up. Aint no tomatoes about it – that’s not an offense I take lightly at all, especially on my own site. Drag your shitty shoes through my house and you’re gonna get called out. The song’s weak, no matter what allegiances you have to Fall. I’ve still yet to hear what’s mesmerizing about a dude speaking two sentences in the middle of a song. Oh, another guy expressed interest with one comment before hearing the album? Awesome – that totally supports your point. Let’s check in to see how happy he is with a two-line spoken contribution.

  24. Skwerl says:

    i reckon rob woke up the wrong passenger. that johnny firecloud ain’t one to stand the gaff, what for being from the old states and all.

  25. Thor Man says:

    Hell hath no fury like a johnny scorned.

  26. dan says:

    I listened to the album twice. There’s 16 songs (I never listened to the hidden track). Anyway, I liked 5 songs. Maybe 6, still not sure about the Snoop Dog one. This sucks. Maybe I’ll like them after awhile. Just like for some reason I convinced myself I didn’t like D-Side, but now I can;t stop listening to it. For good reason I guess since Plastic Beach didn’t live up to my expectations. :|

  27. noyan says:

    Yeah 2,3,11,13,15,16, In my opinion, are kind of lame. the others are good, and would be even better on psychadleics

  28. Enso says:

    Been listening to album more and more, and I have to say it’s more up at 4.5 now :) The more you listen to the album, the more you realize that it reaslly is a early gem of the year.

    Thanks, AQ!

  29. PsycReaper says:

    Ok ok ok … its not their THIRD album its their fifth or sixth O.o … I know there was Self Titled, G sides, D sides(I don’t remember which of those two come first), then Demon days and then Plastic beach and I might even be missing an album

  30. geroge says:

    No mention of Sweepstakes or Glitter Freeze? LAIME! Those are my favorite tracks! :'(

    Well, I kinda understand what rob is saying with Mark’s part in Glitter Freeze. Sure, it’s not the most memorizing lines but I find it one of the most interesting parts of the song.

    Let me put it this way…it’s like one of those instrumentals that make you feel apart of this cautious environment while a mysterious haunting voice is talking to you. It’s like going on a trip to the dark and scary depths of the ocean. That’s how I feel about the song in my opinion. sorry for my English because I’m not that good!

    thanks and good review.

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