Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (2010)


Date Released: March 3-9, 2010
Album Genre: Alternative rock, Alternative hip-hop, Electronic
Album Rating: 8*/10

Blur singer Damon Albarn and co-creator of Tank Girl Jamie Hewlett are at it again the third installment of their virtual band Gorillaz; Plastic Beach. I remember the first time I listened to the Gorillaz it was 3am at night looking for tabs on the internet for songs and happened upon a video for Clint Eastwood and M1 A1. Slow paced, far from mainstream sounding, excuse mashing up these genres, hip hop and alternative rock. Gaining popularity, I definitely noticed their music moving more towards a mainstream sound in Demon Days or quite possibly the other way around, mainstream was moving towards them.

My first impression from listening to Plastic Beach was that it was a seamless movie. This wouldn’t come as much of a surprised as Jamie Hewlett’s influence must have a lot of weight. It’s not hard to notice Hewlett’s love affair with producing dreamlike noir animations and films. The album seems to take a lighter approach musically and lyrically than their previous albums, although by far much stranger, chronicling a journey through this Plastic Beach.

The album begins with a soft instrumental ballad suitably labeled Orchestral Intro followed by an old-school sounding hip hop track with Snoop Dogg basically welcoming you to something that feels like a plastic Alice in Wonderland. White Flag had a surprising introduction, real instruments? Not for long, although toned down from the heavy bass we’re used to from Gorillaz with lyrics bringing us deeper into the rabbit hole. With a rather dreamy yet eerie voice, Albarn manages to scare me but really pull me in with Rhinestone Eyes. One line struck me more than the others, “helicopters fly over the beach, same time everyday, same routine” mainly because the picture in my head was quite vivid.

Everyone’s favorite song from this album, Stylo simply because it just sounds so damn cool. I thought for the longest time they were describing about a robot in one word bursts from Bobby Womack, although quite the different image from the video, although this track seems to move way from the image of plastic. The one predominantly hip hop song that seems to be signature to any of the Gorillaz albums, Superfast Jellyfish featuring De La Soul and Gruff Rhys. The album, or shall I call it story changes pace with Empire Ants, having a relatively mellow tone throughout the song until the end where it introduces electro which is continued on into Glittery Freeze starting with “Where’s north from here?” followed by sounds of Morse code on a telegraph. It really reminded me of M1 A1 from their first track, I actually thought it was a fully instrumental track with sampling from a movie, but it’s Mark E. Smith from The Fall providing “background” vocals

Some Kind Of Nature taking a different approach in describing this world in confusion behind very basic music in the background, giving me the image of something almost like a scene from the Wild West. On Melancholy Hill touches 80’s synthpop, the first time in this album, I might be taking a leap and my memory may be lapsing, but it may be the first time Gorillaz really delved into this genre. This track really popped out lyrically from the rest of the album because it was actually about a “we”. Broken is the first time we’ve heard 2D’s, or more precisely Albarn’s voice without any distortions or aftereffects which is refreshing in an synth filled album. Mos Def raps on a completely different level and is exhibited very well in Sweepstakes, taking the front seat in this track.

Another addition to this ensemble cast, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash get together for the first time since Combat Rock to add yet another dimension to the album. Although I was expecting something a little bit louder in Plastic Beach. It’s about time, it’s nice to hear a woman’s voice finally. Thankfully Yukimi from Little Dragon was here to save the day in The Binge where surf rock meets shoegaze and exchanging not so delightful thoughts with Albarn. Bobby Womack helps conclude the album with a rather orchestral piece in Cloud of Unknowing. I couldn’t help but notice the song having the same title as a piece of Christian mysticism and linking that thought that in the track, he’s somehow talking about God. Quite the opposite from the original The Cloud of Unknown, seeking knowledge will ultimately lead to the clouding of the image of God, “trying to find someone you’ll never know” is made to sound like a pointless quest. The album ends off with the sounds of seagulls and the sea, presumably them sailing away from the Plastic Beach. A story told through music, I wonder what we can expect from Phase Three.

1. Orchestral Intro

2. Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach (4/5)
3. White Flag (3/5)
4. Rhinestone Eyes (4/5)
5. Stylo (5/5)
6. Superfast Jellyfish (5/5)
7. Empire Ants (4/5)
8. Glitter Freeze (4/5)
9. Some Kind Of Nature (3/5)
10. On Melancholy Hill (5/5)
11. Broken (3/5)
12. Sweepstakes (4/5)
13. Plastic Beach (4/5)
14. To Binge (5/5)
15. Cloud Of Unknowing (4/5)
16. Pirate Jet (4/5)

Gorillaz – Superfast Jellyfish

Gorillaz – To Binge

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7 Responses so far.

  1. Anonymous says:

    you know with all the 4/5s on this album, are you sure you wouldn't rate this 8.5?

  2. Jon says:

    Ya, I actually had a hard time deciding whether to give it a 7 or 8. And I know, I could've gone with 7.5 or something, but I stopped doing non-whole numbers.

    I don't know, I almost preferred their first album. Lyrically, this album was alright although there were definitely some gems like On Melancholy Hill, To Binge or even Some Mixture of Nature despite the mark I gave that song. I felt like Albarn and Hewlett were like "okay, Plastic Beach, let's make all the songs describing this place" and towards the end I kind of got tired of it.

    Anyways, the way I describe my rating system and people may not agree with it, is that the individual songs are marked firstly on how much I like it, but also partially compared to other songs by the artist and/or in that genre. Whereas the album is simply decided with reference to all other music I've listened to. Obviously first and foremost how much I liked it myself, but despite what most reviewers will say, you will always rate an album comparing it to other albums.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Touche.

  4. Anonymous says:

    plastic beach strikes me as their best album yet. i wasn't this excited about their previous albums. the songs here are original, and the sequencing is brilliant. there are many standout tracks but this is an album meant to be listened straight through – it deserves it actually. i wasn't expecting to like it this much. what a pleasant surprise.

  5. Jon says:

    Gorillaz albums are always original and filled with amazing tracks. And yes, I have to say the fact that this album resembled a movie soundtrack of sorts was pretty great, definitely a pleasant surprise on my part as well.

    Mind you a 7 isn't a bad grade.

  6. Anonymous says:

    shocking review jon, shooooooocking. everyone knows empire ants is the best song on the album, and as anonymous said u cant have mainly 4/5 and give it 7, its at least 8/10… idiot

  7. Jon says:

    Mmm, I'll take your guys comments into consideration. I've been looking back into my other album reviews and seeing I've given a lot more 7's out than I thought. Plastic Beach might deserve the 8.

    As for the last Anonymous, Empire Ants wasn't my favorite song in the album. Surprise, people have different favorite songs.

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