March 2, 2010

Review: Plastic Beach by Gorillaz

It's been five years since the masterpiece that was Demon Days. If you're looking for more of that, keep looking. Plastic Beach cannot be compared. It's not that it's better or worse, it's just so completely different, both from Demon Days and Gorillaz's self titled debut. The first Gorillaz album without a producer, this one is handled by Damon Albarn himself. That's probably one of the reasons that Gorillaz has an ever changing sound, with Dan the Automator at the helm of the first, Dangermouse at the helm of the second, and Albarn at the helm of the the third. Whatever your expectations, throw them out the window. If there's one thing you should expect about Gorillaz, it's the unexpected.
While I certainly hope this isn't the last Gorillaz album, I suppose we're lucky to have it at all. Plastic Beach was never supposed to happen in the first place, but here it is in all its glory. I made sure to listen through these songs many times over for this review. I wanted to be sure I had developed the best impression of the CD overall. And so, here is my review of Plastic Beach:

The sound of Plastic Beach is much more synthesized and electronic than the previous Gorillaz albums. Though the previous two, I've noticed through comparing, actually contain the same kind of synth, Plastic Beach has a more raw sound to it- probably due to the lack of a producer. I feel like it's almost the pure Gorillaz sound that we've never known until now because there was nobody else looking over Damon's shoulder for this one. The result is something completely different, occasionally brilliant, strange, experimental, and wacky. It feels at times that Albarn had too many ideas floating around in his head and tried to throw everything and the kitchen sink into this (supposed) last outing. Here's the track by track:

1. "Orchestral Intro"- Right from the beginning you can tell this is going to be something completely different. Since when does Gorillaz use an orchestra? Since now. This track, though nice, is pretty much completely pointless taken by itself. Its only a minute long, but it blends extremely well into track number two. Though you have to stop and wonder why it wasn't simply included in that track.

2. "Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach"- The horns welcome you to Plastic Beach in a grandiose way. This gives way to some hanging string cords and some laid back synth for the next minute or so. Then the drums and horns kick back in, and all of a sudden Snoops voice comes in to welcome you. Who better to welcome you to a strange world? And he's pretty good on this track, too. About half way through it starts to sound like some sort of fantastical disco. The end speeds up tempo and builds up to a climax before abruptly ending with Snoops words, "Welcome to the world of the plastic beach."

3. "White Flag"- One of the standout tracks on the album, in my opinion. White flag begins with The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music. It's very nicely done, beautiful stuff that soon gives away to a rather happy little blippy synth beat and UK rapper Kano. Bashy then comes in to rap his verse, and afterwards the two exchange lines about a ideal world without violence, religion, and money. After the two finish up, the orchestra comes back in accompanied by the blippy synth before the track concludes. This seems to be either a love or hate track. I love it. I think Bashy and Kano are great. Their accents are pretty appealing to me.

4. "Rhinestone Eyes"- Electric Shock somehow became what is probably the best track on the album. It starts off simply enough with some interesting "bouncy" synth before Albarn comes in singing in his typical style. It sounds a bit like he's singing into a megaphone again. Then, all of a sudden, the track explodes (well, not quite) while Damon's vocals remain unchanged. I guess what I mean by that is that the song gets more lively. And then the Electric Shock sample comes in with some reverb, "That's electric tric tric tric..." There's a lot of interesting sounds going on at once here, but it never manages to sound too busy. It's fantastic. I really can't compare it to anything from Demon Days, but if I had to I might compare it to "El Manana." Maybe.

5. "Stylo"- I love Mos Def, but he sounds kind of tacked on in this track. He opens it up and closes it up, but that's the only time you hear him and he sings the same lines both times. As for the music, it's surprisingly similar to the demo without being irritating. It's an extremely catchy synth tune. Something dark about it. Damon is usual Damon on this one, singing the chorus. Then Bobby Womack comes out of nowhere. I really wasn't expecting it. So much soul! It's really very different from their usual stuff and I think it works here. It sounds like a dark disco.

6. "Superfast Jellyfish"- As unexpected as Womack was in the last track, nothing can prepare you for Superfast Jellyfish. You won't see it coming. The song starts off with an advertisement for breakfast food that sounds like it's from the 50's. And then live drums and De La Soul. Some of the banter in the background is just silly and funny. Then Gruff Rhys comes in and he has one of the most ridiculously silly voices I've ever heard. Singing the chorus, it sounds like jingle for breakfast cereal. This is another standout track. It's so random and fun. Best commercial I've ever heard.

7. "Empire Ants"- Here's where things start to get interesting. This song starts out very slow with muted synth, piano, and guitar. Albarn's voice comes in and it's all very relaxing. Little Dragon provides accompanying harmonization and your mind starts to drift off to, well, a tropical island. And halfway through, another surprise out of left field. Strong synth starts to fade in from the background at which point Little Dragon takes over the primary vocals. It sounds very 80's retro. But not in a bad way. If this song had come out in the 80's it would have owned everything. Little Dragon's vocals, by the way, are beautiful. She's got a hell of a voice and you wonder why they never collaborated with her up to this point.

8. "Glitter Freeze"- Well, somebody enjoyed The Resistance! Honestly, this is probably the worst track on the album simply because it sounds like Uprising by Muse. Like, a lot. If you've ever heard that song, you can't listen to this one and not think of it. This was supposed to be the "fun" track on the album, like White Light was on Demon Days. Unfortunately, it comes off as a blatant ripoff.

9. "Some Kind of Nature"- This song has more muted synth, piano, and guitar, but it's very cheery and lively. Unfortunately, time has not been well to Lou Reed. He sound like a mumbling old man, like really old. He's only 68, but apparently frequent drug use really destroys the voice. Damon's great on this track and it's really catchy overall, but Reed's vocals are pretty weak. It certainly does grow on you after a while, but I can't help feeling bad for that guy.

10. "On Melancholy Hill"- This is an interesting one. It sounds extremely happy and extremely 80's. More than Empire Ants. But it's so damn good! Something about it sounds very cheery and light. It's really not that happy at all. I mean, it's got melancholy in the title. But it really sounds like it's been ripped directly from the 80's. It's a very good 80's track, but retro nonetheless.

11. "Broken"- The finished version of Broken sounds almost identical to the demo version of the track except for the chorus. Damon used some sort of strange autotune-like device to alter his voice here while singing along side his normal self. It's a bit upsetting because I thought it sounded just fine with Damon's regular old voice. For the remainder of the song, though, his voice is actually unaffected! The song is about 30 seconds shorter and the second verse is completely different, but other than that it sounds almost identical to the demo. That's how you know you've made a good demo. In the grand scheme of the album, this song seems a bit out of place to me. I can't place it, but it just sounds so... complete.

12. "Sweepstakes"- By far the weirdest thing on the album. Maybe the strangest song Gorillaz has ever produced. It's got this really weird lo-fi synth to start out with as Mos Def raps over it. But as more weird synth sounds join in, he stars yelling "Sweepstakes! You're a winner!" which echos throughout the background. And then the Hypnotic Brass Ensamble creeps its way in there and it sounds like some sort of strange fantastical march. All the while, Mos raps the same lyrics over and over various different ways. Finally, the ensamble disappears and the song fades out to Mos rapping in seemingly infinite loop to various bleeps and bloops. I can see why they're called the Hypnotic Brass Ensamble. The track certainly is hypnotic. It's strange. Oh so strange. But straggly appealing. Mos proclaims it's "one of the greatest things as an MC I've ever done."

13."Plastic Beach"- This song features have The Clash! It stars out with a very cool ambient guitar intro that makes way for some synth drums with some dream like overlay. Albarn comes in sounding like half machine half man singing in a very somber and mysterious tone. The track concludes with some weird computer bleeps. It's all very strange but oddly appealing, as Gorillaz often is.

14. "To Binge"- By far the most tropical sounding song on the album. Listening to it makes me think of Hawaii. Albarn and Little Dragon sing duet in this one and it sounds great. It's actually a bit of a sad love song (like several tracks on this album). This is one of the tracks that also sounds complete. It doesn't seem like everything was thrown together and tacked on. Solid from start to finish. Although it sounds like Little Dragon is about a centimeter away from the mic.

15. "Cloud of Unknowing"- The weakest track that isn't automatically weak because it sounds lika a Muse song. It does, however, more than any other song on the album, have a very fitting name. Womack goes solo on this one, but he's not very soulful this time. It's more of a ballad thing. But it feels empty because it has no percussion. It does give it a very airy feeling, kind of like floating through the clouds. It's a bit dull, though, overall, though it has some nice orchestral strings in it played to the sounds of the sea.

16. "Pirate Jet"- This song is great, but far too short. There's a weird springy robotic voice saying "pirate jet" over and over in the background while Damon sings about more plastic stuff. This track reminds me the most of Demon Days. Unfortunately, it's only two and a half minutes.

All in all, this album is probably the least disappoint to come out in the last year. It's different, but Gorillaz always is. They prove that different is not always a bad thing. While it seems at some points to be incomplete or too busy, it all works out by the end. I'm just interested to see what didn't make the cut. It's very sold overall and a definite buy.


  1. I really enjoyed this review. Didn't seem to suck up to them too too much, and reviewed each individual song. Keep it up!

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