December 1, 2010 by Dan Swinhoe
Pop music is full of style over substance. For every Kanye and Dizzee there are a dozen Soulja boys and Chipmunks. And to get to the substance you have to go through a whole load of crap songs.
So when it comes to the Gorillaz, ultimate style band, are the songs going to be outshined by the razzle-dazzle of cartoons, lightshows and dozens of guest musicians? Well, sort of.
In theory (and at certain points, on the record) the idea is laughable; a group of cartoon monkeys making a semi-concept about the state of the environment, but Damon Albarn is one of the country’s best exports and delivers an interesting, varied but sometimes inconsistent album that will guaranteed to be one of the most successful of the year.
And the songs? Well it’s a mixed bag. Like the self-titled debut and “Demon Days” it’s a musical collage of styles, ideas, noises and singers. And when it works, it’s a beautiful, melancholic and hypnotising mess. But at times it jars and feels distinctly average and hap-hazard jumble of ideas.
The double opening of the slow orchestral merging into “welcome to the world of the plastic beach”, with Snoop Dogg acting as the announcer to the next step in pop evolution before diving into a mix of Arabian tinged tribute to British grime on “White Flag”. It’s a constant shock to the system each time the songs end and the next start.
The Calvin Harris on downers “Rhinestone eyes” sombers the mood before the highlight of “Stylo” kicks in, it’s 80s synth beat driving the song forward and matches the best Murdoc & co. have released before. It helps the video is amazing.
From here though, the album feels like a rollercoaster, in style and quality. “Superfast Jellyfish” switches from rap to cartoon theme tune while “Empire Ants” has a quality reminiscent of Blur.
The songs that rise the highest are where instead of experimenting, Albarn keeps it simple and lets the songs breath. While all respect should be given where it’s due and this kind of endeavour should be encouraged, more time should have been spent testing the ideas to see if they really work.
On the whole, it’s neither terrible nor amazing. But it is trying to do something different. And just because of that most critics will laud up this album. And because of the aesthetic way the songs are delivered it’ll be huge.
Yet here is the problem, while there are some quality songs on here, “Stylo” especially, the video outshines it, the 3D computer rendered band and Bruce Willis make it a spectacle not a song. And the simple question is: if it was Damon Albarn standing on stage or dancing in the videos instead of 2D & Murdoc, would they be half as successful?
To celebrate the release of “Plastic Beach” here’s a selection of Gorillaz songs (The awesome “Clint Eastwood” & “Feelgood Inc.”) and songs that follow in the same plastic & watery theme. There are some classic songs on here, including Captain Beefhearts “Plastic Factory” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross”. It’s an ecliptic mix and enjoyable, even the very randomly featured “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” by the Dead Kennedys.