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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach

1. Orchestral Intro (Feat. sinfonia ViVA)
2. Welcome to the World of Plastic Beach (Feat. Snoop Dogg & Hypnotic Brass Ensemble)
3. White Flag (Feat. Bashy, Keno & The Lebanese National Orchestra)
4. Rhinestone Eyes
5. Stylo (Feat. Mos Def & Bobby Womack)
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. The Clash)
14. To Binge (Feat. Little Dragon)
15. Cloud of Unknowing (Feat. Bobby Womack & sinfonia ViVA)
16. Pirate Jet

Gorillaz is a "virtual band" created by Damon Albarn in 1998. The group is comprised of 4 characters, with Albarn's 2D being the only consistent contributor, appearing for a third time on their third studio album Plastic Beach. The album is a whirlwind of jumbled genres, styles, and results. On no other album will you find a collaboration list like the one on Plastic Beach; De La Soul, sinfonia ViVA, Snoop Dogg, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, British rappers Bashy and Kano, The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music, soul-singer Bobby Womack, Mos Def, Lou Reed, The Clash, Gruff Rhys, Swedish-Japanese singer Little Dragon, and Mark E. Smith are all featured on the album.

On paper, these seemingly random collaborations would make most skeptical. However, in motion the most brilliant thing about this album is that all of the guests work. Never once did I question why Albarn chose to work with a specific artist because the songs all feel like they sound precisely how they were intended from conception. This does not mean that I liked all of the songs, it simply means that, in my mind, Damon Albarn made exactly what he wanted to make of the album; a more precise, dark, and electronic sounding work than any of the previousGorillaz outings.

The album opens with Orchestral Intro and Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach.Sprinkled with gull noises and fog horns, you will feel like you are travelling to a lost and polluted island. Snoop Dogg's slow and precise rhymes work brilliantly, but are a bit quirky, as is his nature. Overall, the initial two tracks serve their purpose and open the album in a mellow and flowing manner.

Without The Lebanese National Orchestra, White Flag would not be worth listening to. The decent, if shallow, rhymes of Bashy and Kano are saved by the foreign and exotic melodies of the orchestration.

Rhinestone Eyes is most assuredly the first standout track of the album. It's beautifully poetic lyrics are complimented by a kick-ass electronic beat.

Stylo was the album's first single, and while it's a great mash of soul, rap and europop, I couldn't help but feel it was missing something. Nonetheless it is a fantastic collaborative effort with Mos Def and Bobby Womack both contributing vocals. You really have to watch the music video however.

Why yes, that is Bruce Willis

The album continues with the track Superfast Jellyfish. It's a ridiculous and comical break from the linearity of the album's pollution and conservation message. The song instead makes a statement about the vulgarity of fast food culture. It's silly and catchy, but it's not a song I would ever listen to on a regular basis.

Empire Ants is probably my favorite song on Plastic Beach. It's starts almost painfully slow, but once the tempo and melody changes about halfway through the song, it transports you to an elegantly synthetic and mellow world. Little Dragon's vocals take you away from it all in a way not unlike Feel Good Inc. does on Gorillaz' second album, Demon Days.

Glitter Freeze is a purely electronic track and for me was not anything special. If anything it served as a break from the meaningful lyrics of Empire Ants to something a bit more playful.Some Kind of Nature follows it with a catchy and surprisingly deep tune.

The next two songs are complete opposites. The feel-good of On Melancholy Hill is utterly shattered by the juxtaposition of the lone desperado-sounding Broken. Both are great songs, although I believe On Melancholy Hill is the stronger and more memorable of the two.

Sweepstakes, is probably the weakest song on the album. It's awkward beat and trance-like feel didn't sit well with me. The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble definitely outshines Mos Def on the song, but unfortunately they don't make an appearance until late in the track.

Plastic Beach, the album's title track, is an intriguing collaboration with The Clash and is, quite frankly, weird but good. At this point in the band's history, its fans expect to find the unexpected on Gorillaz albums. This song, album, and the concept behind them both are all testament to that statement.

To Binge is a meaningful and emotional duet with Little Dragon. Although this track isn't as memorable as the earlier collaboration, Little Dragon would still get my vote for best contributor to the album. The emotion continues with Cloud of Unknowing, and poetic song that ends with the same gulls that the album opened with.

Pirate Jet is the closing track, and is unfortunately not very good. I'm curious as to why Albarn chose to end the album with this song and not let Cloud of Unknowing finish it. It may have something to do with the bonus tracks that I was unfortunately not able to listen to. Nonetheless,Pirate Jet ends the album with, what I presume is, an escape of the Plastic Beach.

All things considered, the album is a deep and phenomenal addition to the Gorillaz discography. Dark, moody, and electric, it will require a couple listens to fully absorb all that Damon Albarn is throwing at you. Even if you have never heard of Gorillaz, you owe it to yourself to visit Plastic Beach and hear for yourself what exactly it is and why Damon Albarn created it.

1. Rhinestone Eyes
2. Empire Ants
3. On Melancholy Hill
4. Stylo
5. Some Kind of Nature


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