Thursday, March 18, 2010

Album review - Gorillaz 'Plastic Beach'

‘Plastic Beach’

TRACING THE evolution of modern music’s first virtual band is an interesting one; Gorillaz - the brainchild of Blur’s Damon Albarn and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett - began as a reaction to the mind-numbing ‘hell’ of MTV, and two albums later have a combined total of 15 million album sales.
Thus, the third offering from this innovative, genre-defying and constantly evolving project - around which the effervescent Albarn is the only real constant - was always going to be one to sit up and take notice of.
But here, after the larger-than-life, hip-hop/dub influenced self-titled debut and its follow-up Demon Days, which included the smash singles Feel Good Inc, Dare and Dirty Harry, Albarn has gone beyond joking around with a needle-poking side project, and brought his full talents to bear on Gorillaz third album 'Plastic Beach'.
He has also assembled possibly the most impressive list of collaborators in modern music history, including Snoop Dog, Lou Reed, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Mark E. Smith, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, De La Soul, Little Dragon and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, well-known and loved in these parts following several superb gigs last year.
Also thrown into the mix with startling effect are The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music, who, along with British rappers Kano and Bashy, transform what could have been a disastrous collaboration to one of the highlights - a graceful and light opening by the orchestra allowing the grime artists to do their thing against a faintly Tetris-type sound.
If it sounds beguiling, that's because it is.
The guests add a weight to this album that is intoxicating; particularly Bobby Womack, who apparently collapsed from the effort of recording his unscripted, freestlye offering, and whom injects a measure of soul to Stylo, which also features Mos Def; the deliciously warped Some Kind of Nature, which features Lou Reed’s nasally tinged timbre as a wonderful juxtaposition to Albarn’s soaring, falsetto vocals.
The collaborations with Swedish electro band Little Dragon - fronted by Japanese signer Yukimi Nagano - are also among the highlights, particularly the graceful Empire Ants, which swells with synths and beats and is short, but very sweet.
The warped bass line and northern vocals of Mark E. Smith make Glitter Freeze a memorable offering, while the De La Soul-inspired, super-funky Superfast Jellyfish is the most fun track on offer here.
On the whole however, Albarn avoids any of the anthemic tracks that have made Gorillaz a force to be reckoned with in the past, and interestingly, it is often his own offerings, without the aid of special guests, that are the finest songs here, notably the electro-beat driven On Melancholy Hill and the dancey little number, Rhinestone Eyes, up there with any of his best songs.
This album confirms what many suspected; that what started as a cartoon band has fully and finally made the jump to being a modern digital epic, present here in all its technicolor glory.

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