Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Jun 20, 2019
88
Damon Albarn built Gorillaz's success off massive singles with guest spots, and while I enjoy the albums around them, the other songs didn't always live up to the "Clint Eastwood"s or "Feel Good Inc"s. The cartoon music videos with the singles also moved an intriguing narrative forward, but the albums themselves never did much to push the story. Plastic Beach jumps both these hurdles by giving us excellent song after excellent song that build a world for these characters worth inhabiting. It embraces much more of the synthpop side of the band while retaining catchy rhythms, introspective lyricism and the features that make Gorillaz songs stand out. Damon Albarn's singing is some of the best of his extensive career and the gap between Albarn and cartoon bandleader 2D is nonexistant. The bevy of guests bring together decades worth of styles and experiences, shining in their own right while never drowning out Albarn. With such strides in style, scope and sound, Plastic Beach is an album you'd never believe could come from the concept of a fake band.

The beats on Plastic Beach are routinely exceptional. The use of the synths evoke a wide range of emotion, all highly memorable and addicting. Highlight "On Melancholy Hill" is a wistful track about settling for what you can get backed by glittering synths and vocal harmonies. "Empire Ants" starts out a little mysterious but explodes into a incredible synth-laden banger in the middle. Speaking of bangers, "Glitter Freeze" is an instrumental rocker with heavier synths that power the song forward. Songs like "Rhinestone Eyes" and "Some Kind of Nature" may be a little more deliberate but are easily carried by strong rhythms. Arpeggiating synths on "Plastic Beach" are complimented by reunited members of The Clash playing guitar and bass like the old days. Mos Def and Bobby Womack deliver fantastic verses over a bubbling beat on "Stylo", complimented by Albarn's hook tying these elements together. I won't do it here, but each track has an instrumental element worth drooling over.

Another reason to love Plastic Beach is its willingness to try styles we haven't before seen on Gorillaz records. "Orchestral Intro" and "Welcome To The World of The Plastic Beach" set the tone with some big synths lines that build nicely, setting a tone for the album as a whole. Snoop Dogg calmly introduces you to the sound on "Welcome", which is one of a few tracks to use an orchestra/ensemble. It's a bold choice that pays off by using the ensemble to make the tracks sound all the more dramatic, adding to the world PB creates. We're also treated to instrumental tracks that, by relying on the sound alone, give us a better sonic understanding world of Plastic Beach. The commitment to synth-y production also improves the songs that try different genres. The hip hop numbers like "White Flag" and "Sweepstakes" mesh together easily, with the guests feeling completely at ease with a different style than they're used to working with.

Damon Albarn's performances in the past have felt complimentary to the guests he worked with, but the tracks he carries on PB are easily some of the best. "Rhinestone Eyes", "On Melancholy Hill" and "Broken" are clearly sung and delivered with a poise Albarn rarely offered on past records. His voice always fits the theme of the track, like his lazy intro on "Empire Ants" or the longing hook on "Stylo". Albarn's appearances on some tracks might be minor, like "Stylo", but his importance to those songs can't be understated. As expected, all the guest spots are great, and Albarn does a great job of emceeing the cast while not letting himself get lost in the maelstrom. To get musicians like Lou Reed or Bobby Womack, legendary singers of past times, is a testament to Albarn's reach he built through Gorillaz. They both fit perfectly on their songs, with Reed's deadpanned vocals on "Some Kind of Nature" and Womack's titanic lines about other universes are sure album highlights. The usuals suspects De La Soul appear, singing a funny song about processed food with an amazing Albarn Hook on "Superfast Jellyfish". Little Dragon (Empire Ants, To Binge) and Mos Def (Stylo, Sweepstakes) are just two more of the features that I instantly fell in love with.

By the end on "Pirate Jet", you've heard 2D and the band drift to synth landscapes filled with one interesting character after another. Accompanied by some great music videos, Plastic Beach furthers the narrative of Gorillaz while delivering the best musical accompanyment so far. The stretch from "Rhinestone Eyes" to "On Melancholy Hill" is the strongest of the fake band's entire discography. It's proof that no matter how farfetched the original idea is, you can evolve it into something absolutely beautiful.

Standouts: Rhinestone Eyes, Stylo, Superfast Jellyfish, Empire Ants, Glitter Freeze, Some Kind of Nature, On Melancholy Hill, Sweepstakes, Plastic Beach, Pirate Jet
6 Comments
Jun 20, 2019
Exceptional review! Looks like Plastic Beach is really getting a lot of acclaim nowadays.
Jun 20, 2019
I loved Plastic Beach before it was cool
Jun 20, 2019
I loved hating @KIDWITHGUNs before it was cool
Jun 20, 2019
Thanks Inglume! People are shitposting in my review comments so I feel like I've made it
Jun 20, 2019
@cfreemon oh sorry if you don't want that. I'll stop doing that then
Jun 20, 2019
No it's fine! Shitposting is one of the few entertaining things to do on the internet anymore
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