Although the official Gorillaz party line is that it’s a virtual quartet—with headquarters now based at “Plastic Beach,” atop a floating trash heap in the South Pacific—the reality is that it’s still the musical project of Blur’s Damon Albarn and comic-book artist Jamie Hewlett. Plastic Beach, the third Gorillaz album, should be a creative smash; guests include Lou Reed, Snoop Dogg, Bobby Womack, The Fall’s Mark E. Smith and The Clash’s Mick Jones and Paul Simonon.
- Beyond the Weekly
- Billboard: Plastic Beach
Plenty of whimsy runs through the songs—from the demure orchestra/Technicolor grime-rap battle of “White Flag” to Gruff Rhys’ nonsense helium spews wrapping around De La Soul’s expressive storytelling in “Superfast Jellyfish.” Yet, as befitting a band whose members are represented by cartoons, Beach’s dub-hop/synth-noir hybrids often lack a pulse. “On Melancholy Hill” sounds like a Muzak version of a new-wave tune, and both Reed and Smith’s contributions are gritted-teeth stumbles. As on past records, Gorillaz excels when sticking to pop constructs. Jones and Simonon’s musical collaboration—their first together since The Clash—make the title track a highlight. Loopy keyboards and dank, cinematic atmospheres lazily unfold behind Albarn’s pale, ghostly murmurings about a “Casio on a plastic beach.” Womack’s excellent contributions, meanwhile, are both soulful (the gospel-tinged “Cloud of Unknowing”) and funky-chaos (“Stylo,” a new-wave playground featuring Mos Def asides and Albarn’s most nuanced delivery).
Strong songwriting helped Gorillaz transcend the gimmick tag for two albums. Unfortunately, the group isn’t so lucky this time.