Gorillaz | Plastic Beach (Parlophone/Virgin)

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Even with all the guests, the best tracks seem to be those that feature Albarn by himself.

It’s a little bit unbelievable to realize that Gorillaz, Damon Albarn’s side project away from Blur, would be approaching the same amount of longevity as the band itself. While Gorillaz haven’t been quite as prolific with this being only their second release since their 2001 self titled debut, each album has been extremely strong. Even with four years since Demon Days , their latest release Plastic Beach again proves to be well worth the wait.
Even though Albarn is one of the classic lead singers in alternative rock history, Plastic Beach is only somewhat about him. Really, it’s much more about how he integrates the impressive guest list into the fold. Although it generally works, the amount of featured artists gives the album a bit more of a compilation feel. The selection of artists to help out is excellent and always keeps things fresh, highlighted by Bobby Womack and Mos Def lending a hand on the excellent first single “Stylo.” Albarn is also joined by several brass sections and orchestras in addition to UK Grime rappers Kano and Bashy, Snoop Dogg, Little Dragon and De La Soul. De La absolutely knocks it out of the park on the album’s best, “Superfast Jellyfish.” The only slight disappointment is Lou Reed’s appearance on “Some Kind Of Nature,” which despite being solid, doesn’t exactly live up to the promise of the collaboration. The song unfortunately seems to step too far outside of Gorillaz’ comfort zone and more into Reed’s, whereas the true challenge would have been to try to integrate him into their weirdness.
Even with all the guests, the best tracks seem to be those that feature Albarn by himself. “Rhinestone Eyes,” the second single, is punctuated by a strong, driving electronic beat that is among the most infectious productions in recent memories. Even more so, “Glitter Freeze” is an intense and borderline exhausting exercise, full of loud drums and wailing sound effects. It evokes exactly the feeling of chaos that it sets out to. And when Gorillaz heads into a completely different direction with the neatly arranged pop masterpiece “On Melancholy Hill,” it works just as well. If these tracks were played back to back they may sound a bit jarring, but they each fit into the trademark style and mentality of the band, contributing to the diverse strength of Plastic Beach.
There’s supposedly a running theme about recycling on Plastic Beach that I never caught – ultimately, it isn’t important. This album is not meant to make a grand statement; instead it’s supposed to be catchy, stylish, frightening and beautiful at all the same time. In this respect, it is absolutely a success. The Gorillaz sound has matured greatly and it finally comes together perfectly together, as Plastic Beach is definitely the best work in the Gorillaz catalog, a landmark achievement that just continues to get better with each listen. A- | Brett Berliner
RIYL: Prince Paul, Deltron 3030, Gnarls Barkley


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