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Album Review: Gorillaz score big with third effort

by Guia Nocon on March 19, 2010

Looks like Gorillaz just fashioned their best album to date with their third effort, Plastic Beach.  Again replete with famous monikers like De La Soul, Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, The Clash’s Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, and Lou Reed.  Yes, Lou Reed, and it’s, in a word, awesome.

Plastic Beach bursts with exceptionally danceable tunes — disco tracks that make you smile without even noticing.  But keeping true to their reputation for theatrics, Gorillaz artfully weave a subtle menace beneath the breezy melodies and bouncing beats.  You feel great while listening but always at the back of your mind you can sense some tugging sense of doom.

The album opens with “Orchestral Intro” featuring Sinfonia ViVa and perfectly sets the stage for the rest of the album.  Sweeping and awe-inspired, the intro sounds more like an opera than a hip-hop/pop album.  Immediately, you know something big and grand is on its way.  Yet, at the end of the track, the record seems to skip and all you hear is this slightly uncomfortable, somewhat menacing repetition of horns.  At this point it goes into the second track, “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach” with Snoop Dogg (not the best song) and the horns are no longer somewhat menacing but downright scary.  Nevertheless, that gives way to a nicely chilled out beat and you wonder: what just happened?

This is the album in a nutshell.  Its bubbly atmosphere houses darker issues, such as environmental problems and disasters.  For instance, “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach” mentions “pollution from the ocean” and how the world seems “so hopeless.”  The track “Rhinestone Eyes” further reiterates this feeling of impending doom, warning that “the waves are rising for this time of year / and nobody knows what to do with the heat / under sunshine pylons we’ll meet / while rain is falling like rhinestones from the sky.”  You may want to dance in this world the Gorillaz have crafted but live in it?  Doesn’t sound so good.

The album succeeds in this subtle interweaving of opposing emotions.  For example, the sixth track, “Superfast Jellyfish,” opens with the sample: “This morning you’ve got time for a hot, home-cooked breakfast.  Delicious and piping hot in only three microwave minutes!”  It seems that the Gorillaz are having fun at the expense of their listeners.  They showcase a world where there are many wrongs and yet its inhabitants blindly go on with their lives, further inviting doom by doing nothing.

The album is fabulously Gorillaz-esque (meaning super cute) but there are little things that should have been left out.  Notably, lyrics such as “the revolution will be televised” should just stop being used unless the artist willingly invites scorn.  When all is said and done, it takes about three minutes to like this album and another five to completely love it.  The Gorillaz practically spoon feed it to you with their infectious beats and melodies showcased by club hits, like the first single “Stylo” (featuring Bobby Womack and Mos Def), and the breezy “Some Kind of Nature” (featuring Lou Reed), which is quite possibly the best Gorillaz track yet.  At the same time, you have to shudder when you realize just what exactly it is they’re feeding you. Nevertheless, it’s their best album because, no matter what, you just want to keep eating more.