More synonymous with a consortium of musicians than cartoon imagery, part of Gorillaz success is down to guest vocalists. It’s a great idea in theory, but with collaborations so obscure and leftfield the results are occasionally inconsistent. Where previous offerings helped them break into mainstream consciousness, ‘Plastic Beach’ has a stab at targeting a more mature audience (if the eclectic line-up of artists involved is anything to go by) whilst simultaneously keeping existing fans. It works, just.
Kicking off as a pop edged rap affair featuring the likes of Snoop, Mos Def and De La Soul, there’s a combination of world music and a more subdued lo-fi electronic sound. It’s an interesting mix, albeit one that occasionally fails to make an impact. Snoop’s collaboration, ‘Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach’, however, is the best thing he has done for a decade.
It’s the middle of the album where it really begins to shine. The collaborations with Little Dragon are sublime; ‘Glitter Freeze’, featuring Mark E Smith, completely barking. ‘Superfast Jellyfish’ raises the bonkers mark with Gruff Rhys and De La Soul, who manage to fuse both of their unique sounds seamlessly. So much so, in fact, it makes you hanker for an entire album. Probably the most mainstream friendly collaboration here is that of Paul Simonon and Mick Jones, playing together for the first time since The Clash. Sadly, something that could have been so amazing delivers little.
Of the sixteen tracks at least seven are filler and with repeat performances, ‘Plastic Beach’ does feel a tad recycled towards the end; more Blackpool than Hawaii, it’s still an album full of brilliance from a bona fide British genius.
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All in, it’s classic Gorillaz: a mixed bag mostly stuffed with delights, that fares extremely favourably on the banger to clanger ratio.
‘Song Machine’ might have been born from a playful spirit, but it’s also an album that finds Gorillaz holding a mirror to the modern world’s divisions, and offering up a far more utopian alternative.
Damon Albarn also rallies against the UK government’s management of the pandemic in this month’s cover feature.