March 9th, 2010
Rating: 84/100Tracks not to Miss: "Superfast Jellyfish", Some Kind of Nature", "Plastic Beach", "White Flag"
Like anyone else tuned into music in the 21st century, I immediately went to npr.org and began listening to their streaming preview of Gorillaz's latest album Plastic Beach. For those living under a rock since 2001 (and for that I might not blame you), Gorillaz is a band conceived by Damon Albarn, most notably of the British rock band Blur, and Jaime Hewlett, the graphic novel artist known for Tank Girl. Albarn would fill the music content and Hewlett created a band of cartoon characters that put the Banana Splits and Archies to shame. 2D, Noodlez, Murdoc, and Russel hit the ground running with the cutting edge track "Clint Eastwood" and haven't look back since. Their self-titled debut was produced by Dan the Automator and second album Demon Days was produced by the red-hot Danger Mouse. For Plastic Beach, Albarn has kept the reins to himself and his collaborators. Speaking of collaborators, the new album is just as powerful as the group's past two records. Joing the Gorillaz are Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, formerly of the Clash, Bobby Womack, Mos Def, Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, Snoop Dogg, and probably a meeting of cosmic proportions, Lou Fucking Reed.
Enough of the backlog, let's get to the point of this rambling. Plastic Beach, on first listen, is the first real ALBUM of 2010. 2010 already has some solid releases (Contra, Teen Dream, Astro Coast) but this is the first that really hits like all the tracks flow from one to the other like a classic rock concept album. Each track, no matter is tone, feels like it belongs together. They all have the odd quirky electronic flourishes that characterize a Gorillaz record. It also has a stong pop feel to it. Albarn leans heavy on an synthesizer sound that feels like Brian Wilson would have used it if he could have. Albarn's constant presence on the album also gives it more of a cohesive feel than other Gorillaz records. He doesn't lean heavy on his guests too often. Two tracks that do this are "Some Kind of Nature" with Lou Reed and "Sweepstakes" with Mos Def. "Sweepstakes" is a great track but it sounds like it might have been a leftover from Def's amazing recent album The Ecstatic. "Some Kind of Nature" is the perfect blend of Albarn and Reed though with Lou singing the verses and Albarn on the chorus.
Plastic Beach is also a great chill party record. You can put it on and have it either fall into the background or turn it up and dance to it. It'll start conversations and fill wordless voids. If I still lived in New York, I could guarantee I'd hear it at many parties all around Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Washington Heights and the like. The only downfall of the album, there's no singular strong track like Gorillaz had "Clint Eastwood" or Demon Days had "Feel Good, Inc." "Stylo," the lead single with Mos Def and Bobby Womack is a hot subtle 80s-eqsue groove with a killer vocal line by Womack but I can't see it selling iPods or blaring in a store. The second single "Superfast Jellyfish" could be out there with it's super catchy dreamlike chorus. Either way, it's a super fun record that will probably become a sound of the summer for hipsters and music dorks everywhere. Don't say you weren't warned.
I leave you with the Hewlett-ized image of Lou Reed. AMAZING.