Somewhere between the brilliance that was Demon Days and the excellent debut that was their self-titled effort, Gorillaz pushed the boundaries of pop music to new realms. Delving deeper and into a world of synths, hip-hop collaborations, dancefloor hooks, delectable melodies and propulsive production, Damon Albarn wanted to push everything that much farther with their latest triumph, Plastic Beach.
Now, more than ever, Albarn and Co. is rooted so deeply into the consciousness of pop music that not only is Plastic Beach their most upbeat album but in every sense of the word, their best album by far. Pushing yourself and testing your ability is something Albarn would always attempt to conquer, but what he’s done with this album is deliver a substantially excellent album. The styles jump out at you with their precise delivery but even at their most unique, it’s still a Gorillaz album.
Not only does the music work inside of a concept where a distant land lives but there is, very succinctly, never any let up with these guys. Spacing out the orchestra and bringing along a heavier side of electronics and pop, each song will reveal something to love – even if it is not heard by anyone else. Songs bristle with spectacular progressions, lines are decorated with heartfelt lyrics and guest spots are portrayed with a calm and collected hand that I would bet off-the-street musicians could’ve showed up to help out.
While their monstrous debut had “Clint Eastwood,” and Demon Days had “Feel Good, Inc.”, there isn’t a standout track like that anywhere to be found on Plastic Beach. Without a doubt, there is nothing wrong with that because they’ve centered their talents on making amazing song after amazing song. Don’t ever stop the chase and don’t ever dream it’s impossible.
Lou Reed’s voice sounds cleverly in sync on “Some Kind of Nature,” and it comes off as the work of a master genius being surrounded by equally impressive musicians. Albarn and his band sing with their melancholy style but they are melodically adept and Reed sings his part, never once doubting what is going around him. Track-by-track reviews are the worst but it almost feels like if any album deserved it, it’d be this one.
As a few examples, the album begins with an orchestral mystical wonder that sounds as if it belonged on Hans Zimmer’s next work, there is the band’s stunning “On Melancholy Hill” and then there is “Empire Ants.” Like Portishead’s “The Rip,” the latter starts off with a hushed backdrop of synths before the voice appears and it isn’t long before the music flows through a synth with heavy beats and bass-driven drums. It’s strikingly amazing, it’s remarkably superb and it is absolutely exceptional.
Truth can be admitted that 2010 has already gotten off to an outstanding start and even with the first quarter still not over, it rivals everything 2009 had to offer. Gorillaz can rest assured that they are near the very top. There was concern that without Danger Mouse’s production, that we’d see a dip in terms of quality but on the contrary, Plastic Beach is a triumphant album. There isn’t a spoken word track this time around but when you’re able to combine featured spots from everyone like Bobby Womack to Little Dragon to Mos Def to Gruff Rhys then we can relax a bit. Womack’s vocals on “Cloud of Unknowing” – especially – along with the ominous strings, create a bit of a fury but in the end, it’s the supreme conductor in charge of it all and he knows exactly what he is doing.
At the very moment, it’s the kind of album that never lets up: each song is a distinctively impressive blend of songcraft and musicianship. They each sound different with the guests providing their singularly joyful skills but as a sum, they work towards something that can be heralded now and later. And that’s the driving point with Plastic Beach, all of the aforementioned can be easily loved but it will be the simple fact that it’s as good as anything Albarn has ever done and for the Gorillaz, a fantastically tailored album from top to bottom.