Damon Albarn and his cartoon circus is back with their third studio album, Plastic Beach. The album features appearances from Snoop Dogg, Kano, Bobby Womack, Mos Def, De La Soul, and Lou Reed among others.
Damon Albarn serves as no more than a producer for a good portion of the album. He contributes vocals to less than half the tracks on the album; instead he relies heavily on the vocals of others. In some ways this isn’t a surprise. Albarn was not the main vocalist on the Gorillaz previous hits like “Clint Eastwood” or “Feel Good Inc.” but Albarn is almost a non-presence for most of the album. For a band who is supposed to be a concept, the concept feels awfully flimsy without character continuity.
With that said, concept is not everything; as a matter of fact, concept has had very little to do with the Gorillaz appeal. Albarn has stated that Plastic Beach might be the poppiest project he has embarked on. I might have to agree with him. The album’s first non-instrumental track is “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach” which features Snoop Dogg. The track could easily be off of any of Snoop’s modern albums. It has a thumping bass sound with the addition of horns from Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.
For those not down with the California p-funk sound, “White Flag” features grime superstars Bashy and Kano. The track features 8-bit Nintendo sounding keyboards over a traditional hip-hop drum track. The track gets a little experimental with an extended flute intro and outro, but for the most part it is a standard grime track.
For the non-hip hop fans, the Gorillaz still deliver danceable tracks like “Glitter Freeze”. The track features Mark E. Smith, but only adding occasional spoken word blips in between bursts of keyboards that remind me of the Faint. The track features a beat that is eerily similar to Gary Glitter’s “Rock N Roll Part 3”.
Overall, Albarn probably delivers his strongest album yet under the Gorillaz moniker. Plastic Beach is undeniably poppy and well written but still with an experimental edge. It makes me wish that the Gorillaz released more albums than once every five years or so.