Filed under: Releases of the Week | Tags: Bobby Womack, Damon Albarn, De La Soul, Gorillaz, Gruff Rhys, Mos Def, Plastic Beach, The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music, White Album
PREVIEW: VISIT Gorillaz’s MySpace
WE GIVE IT: 14/20 Watts
The often enigmatic, highly successful Gorillaz have spent over a decade infiltrating the popular and more underground music landscapes. Singles like “Feel Good Inc.” and “Clint Eastwood” have allowed the animated project international exposure and millions of record sales. And in all that time, the band has somehow avoided a real, tangible musical identity, mostly to its benefit. However, on their latest release Plastic Beach, this fact becomes a bit too obvious at times.
Among its issues, Plastic Beach tries to once again redefine the hip-hop/alternative rock/electronic project, while also aging fictional characters. Essentially, the band Damon Albarn created is now entering a more experimental, White Album-type territory in their career. And while this concept can potentially be ridiculed, its intrepidness outweighs such criticism. Reflecting on their “career,” as it may be, 2D, Murdoc, Russel and Noodle attempt to come to grips with age while harnessing the awesome power of their shape-shifting sound.
In parts, Gorillaz succeed in this regard. In the group’s classic fashion, the singles are gold. “Stylo,” featuring the song’s co-writer Mos Def, as well as Bobby Womack, is an adventure in digital pop that has already sealed its spot on the club scene. “Superfast Jellyfish,” as goofy as it is, might just be the album’s best song, on the backs of Gruff Rhys and De La Soul. While “On Melancholy Hill” is this album’s “Feel Good Inc.”– a glistening, easy-going pop track with tons of radio appeal.
Beyond that though, Plastic Beach becomes a mashed-up collection of electronic and orchestral experimentation. “White Flag” jumps back and forth between a simple digital sample and entertaining Middle Eastern orchestration courtesy of The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music. Songs like “Plastic Beach” and “Rhinestone Eyes” float in the space between pop and hip-hop without ever really deciding which they’d like to be– the crux of the problem.
As intriguing and engaging as Plastic Beach‘s soundscapes are, they do very little to help define a sound for Gorillaz. Too many different genres and too many different contributors (15 in all) make it seem more muddled than precise. And its 16-track length is more reminiscent of most over-the-top hip-hop projects of the early 00s.
Though Plastic Beach is an excellent record from a musical standpoint, its hazy concept of self affects the overall quality a bit too much for its own good.
-John Cassillo, Reviews Editor