Gorillaz: Plastic Beach

RIYL: Blur, mid-period OMD, Saturday morning cartoons

Damon Albarn is surely still scratching his head over the fact that he had to hide behind a crudely drawn character in order to sell a million records in the US, while the humanoid version of Albarn remains a cult act, be it with Blur or the Good, the Bad & the Queen, his project with the Clash’s Paul Simonon. Give him credit, then, for not capitalizing on this loophole by turning the Gorillaz into a Hannah Montana-style media juggernaut, churning out an album, plush doll, video game and TV show every 18 months. God knows, it must have been tempting. Sell millions of records, or don’t sell millions of records? Credibility is nice, but as David Cross pointed out, those outside the industry are stingy about accepting it as collateral.


Indeed, it’s been five years since Albarn has donned the ink and paper, and if the Gorillaz’ new album Plastic Beach is any indication, the anger that fueled 2005’s Demon Days has subsided. Unfortunately, Albarn’s energy level seems to have subsided as well. The album doesn’t shift gears much, opting for mid-tempo grooves that you’d expect from a Jack Johnson or a G. Love. “On Melancholy Hill” sounds like OMD circa The Pacific Age. This is not your older brother’s Gorillaz, though that’s not entirely a bad thing. The album may be completely lacking in bottom end – you’d have to go back 30 years to find tinnier drum tracks – but Albarn is still good for one unforgettable single, in this case the “Safety Dance”-ish “Stylo,” featuring a passionate vocal from Bobby Womack. De La Soul return to guest on the cutesy “Superfast Jellyfish,” and “To Binge,” a perky duet with Little Dragon, is one of the best pop songs Albarn’s written in years. He gets a bit carried away with the guest performers, though. Did he need Mos Def and Bobby Womack and De La Soul and Mark E. Smith and Lou Reed and Snoop Dogg and Mick Jones and Paul Simonon? (And that’s not even all of the guest performers.) Albarn ultimately minimizes his contributions to his own album.

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect about Plastic Beach is its warmth, or lack thereof. This is one cold album, and perhaps that was Albarn’s point. If so, mission accomplished, but it could come at a huge price. His band is already artificial; when the music begins to feel the same way, discontent is sure to follow. There is much to admire about Plastic Beach, but it’s also one of the most emotionless albums you’ll hear this year. (Virgin 2010)

Gorillaz MySpace page
Click to buy Plastic Beach from Amazon