Released: Mar 3, 2010
Genre: Electropop, Alternative hip-hop, Alternative rock, Trip hop
Label: Parlophone / Virgin
Number Of Tracks: 16
Comprised of four animated members 2D, Noodle, Murdoc Niccals and Russel, Gorillaz have unveiled Plastic Beach, an experimental record as far as the group's past material is concerned.
UG Team, on march 09, 2010 3 of 4 people found this review helpful
Sound: It's taken five years for the English virtual band Gorillaz to release another album and the anticipation built the last few months has made critics wonder if it would live up to the hype. One thing's for sure, the group hasn't self-destructed yet. Comprised of four animated members 2D, Noodle, Murdoc Niccals and Russel, Gorillaz have unveiled Plastic Beach, an experimental record as far as the group's past material is concerned. As the brainchild of the project Gorillaz, Blur'sDamon Albarn declared the third studio album would be the biggest pop record he has ever made in his career.
Instead of providing support that the album has in fact been overhyped, Gorillaz have created an artistic and imaginative record. Claimed to be influenced by watching people and animals rummage through garbage and an actual beach, the record is said to portray an older version of the animated characters. Maturity and wisdom may not be what Albarn was aiming for, but his sense of displaying the animated characters in an older fashion seems to be evident in the collection of 16 tracks.
Revolving around anticipation, the latest record from the animated band uses a theatrical piece to open the door to their new material. Clocking in at just over a minute, the intro used in their promotional videos has an eery feel to it with crashing waves and the sound of seagulls in the background, but it's an interesting opener that defines the album's title. The only downside to the unique choice is the fact it opens the door to "Welcome To The World Of Plastic Beach", an unneccessary choice. Draped with an electronic beat, the track has a groovy 70s' television crime drama feel to it, especially with contributing vocals from hip hop artist Snoop Dogg, but its a song that's more of an extended intro that a stand-out track.
The group does shade the obscurities and introduces material begging for mainstream play. "White Flag" is odd yet intriguing and leads off with a tribal melody that blends with orchestral harmonies. Although it sounds complex, it takes a sharp turn and features brilliant rhymes from rappers Bashy and Kano over a classic Nintendo-inspired beat that transforms itself back into an Arabic tune. "Rhinestone Eyes" on the other hand introduces itself with the Gorillaz at the reins and is the ideal example of what Albarn meant when he wanted to focus on displaying how the group has aged. Such a theme reoccurs prominently throughout the album as listeners find themselves hearing numbers that are a lot more atmospheric than early Gorillaz material. "Empire Ants" takes space rock to a whole different level while "Glitter Freeze" is an anthem in itself that could lead to a mass techno rave during the the group's performance on the final night of Coachella 2010.
What's so enticing about the record is how Albarn is able to combine his experimental melodies with an assortment of artists. On "Stylo", he uses a Knight Rider-inspired groove as the setting for a constant battle between rapper Mos Def and his adrenaline-fueled rhymes and soul singer Bobby Womack and his heartfelt wails. With "Some Kind Of Nature", he uses a dull Lou Reed to with a colourful melody to create a track beaming with energy while "To Binge" combines romantic elements with contributions from Swedish electronic band Little Dragon to export a somewhat lazy, yet fun tune.
Admist the great contributions from other artists, there are a few tracks on the Gorillaz record that may be a bit too much for the average listener. Due to the imaginative sounds incorporated on it, the title track is a perfect example as it draws from a variety of different genres creating a song mixed with psychedelia, electronica and pop. Although it is artistic in a sense, it's inspirations along with other songs unfortunately drag the record on and that itself can force those listening to come up mixed views on what they think of the album as a whole. // 8
Lyrics: The Gorillaz are known for their ability to take random thoughts and evolve them into intelligent and catchy lyrics and that talent is still evident in Plastic Beach. Not to mention the fact they can do so while using vocals that are relaxed, not energetic. Over a depressed synth on "Rhinestone Eyes", the lead vocalist 2D reinvents himself with his melancholy vocals that seem to be even more depressed than before. Such dullness may drive a listener to skip the track but that decision can easily be changed as the song switches to an electronic choir of kids that add zip to the chorus and funk to the song as a whole.
"On Melancholy Hill" also supports the relaxed vibe with dreamy vocals that whistle days while on vacation. To go along with the melody, the lyrics are simple yet inspirational as 2D shows a more cheerful side crooning "Where you can't get what you want / But you can get me". With tracks like this, the album appears to be a distant relative from previous releases like Demon Days, but the group's roots are still apparent. The second single "Superfast Jellyfish" combines unusual lines about fast-food jellyfish with a pop chorus that's bound to have fans singing along with delight even though the track is strange to the tip. Such songwriting is what has made the group an instant hit on an international scale and will continue to do so as their career extends. // 9
Overall Impression: When individuals first discovered Gorillaz was releasing a new album in 2010, they expected the group to release another series of hit singles wrapped in mainstream yet unsual beats similar to their past work. There are a few tracks that fit such a description, but the record as a whole is different from its predecessors. Plastic Beach takes a large step back and reveals a calmer and casual side that appears as if it has taken the animated characters out of their comfort zones. Instead of having a meltdown and chalking up a failed attempt at creating another respectable record, Gorillaz have hit their stride and accepted the fact we all have to grow up sometime. // 8
Dalek300, on march 30, 2010 2 of 4 people found this review helpful
Sound: 01. Orchestral Intro (ft. Sinfonia ViVa): immediately hearing the sound of waves rolling onto the sure and the warm swell of orchestral instruments give a sense that this album is going to be special. Everything fits quite well into an almost dream-like introduction to this new album. A big welcome back to the Gorillaz - 10/10
02. Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach (ft. Snoop Dogg & Hypnotic Brass Ensemble): no sooner have we encountered the loving embrace of the orchestra, we hear what sounds like the low rumble of a jet engine before we have a quick build up into what is now the second track. A lovely bass groove enters the scene and a familiar voice rings out. Well if it isn't everyone's favourite quadruped rapper Snoop Dogg. The next synth section that accompanies the bass line immediately harkens to Rock the House from Gorillaz' self titled album. 2D's voice running through a vox box accompanying Dogg's lyrics sounds awesome. At first I was worried about Snoop Dogg's appearance on the album but I feel much better knowing he sounds pretty decent save for a few off rhymes. Welcome to the world of the plastic beach indeed 8/10
03. White Flag (ft. Bashy, Kano & The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabian Music): probably one of my least favourite tracks on the album although the introduction sounds great with a tribal drum beat alongside some wonderful orchestral string and wind instruments. Just such a shame this disappears into a dissonant drum and techno beat. The lyrics provided by Bashy sound equally out of place and create quite a confusing sound although Kano's rhymes easily make up for the previous abysmal section and the outro returns to the wonderful orchestral section that made the intro of this track so wonderful 7/10
04. Rhinestone Eyes: absolutely love the simple beat here. Worth bobbing to. Suddenly 2D enters the album's scene properly! Must admit, the vocals sound really good with an effective sense of distance and depression. A nice synth breakdown between the verses and the overall backing to the track sound wonderful. The occasional female vocals shouting sound quite cool but still slightly out of place. Although I feel this is still a strong track, it brings up the issue that occurs throughout most of the album. A serious case of repetition. Shame there's no real chorus either 8/10
05. Stylo (ft. Bobby Womack & Mos Def): and no song illustrates this repetition better than Stylo. Throughout the whole of the song we have quite a catchy bass line but the constant repetition of it undermines its brilliance in my opinion. All the vocals sound stellar here, 2D, Mos Def and Bobby Womack especially. I absolutely love the element his voice lends to the song, very strong, powerful and gives an element of soul to the song. It contrasts well with 2D's soft and melodramatic crooning. Not much else can be said about this track considering the lack of musical uniqueness and constant repetition. Regardless, with a good driving bass line and some great synth added to it, this is another great track on the album 10/10
06. Superfast Jellyfish (ft. Gruff Rhys & De La Soul): great song name. Was a little worried about it at first but after hearing it, I feel much better. Introducing the track with an advertisement like section is very unique and the awesome drum beat and bass that follow further sound brilliant. Gruff and De La Soul's lyrics sound brilliant although in ways they sound more like a conversation in places than rapping. A few rhymes sound a little off beat but for the most part, everything's good once again. I must say though, I absolutely love the chorus, possibly my favourite on the album. The outro to the song gives way to the repetitiveness of the bass line once again with some extra techno style vocals to try and balance things out. Regardless of this, one of my favourite tracks on the album once again 10/10
07. Empire Ants (ft. Little Dragon): and all is calm. Lovely reverb on the guitar track, combined with some lovely piano work sets the stage for 2D once again as we have some equal calming vocals accompanying the already mellow track that, to me, remind me of the vocal melody of Demon Day's O' Green World. After a couple of verses, Little Dragon takes control of the vocal side as the song gets slightly less calm and more into a bit of a techno haze. Lovely sounding vocals on her part singing some catchy lines and brings a new sound that hasn't really been encountered with vocalists on Gorillaz' studio efforts. I feel the song is the appropriate length, fading out at the very end before the track has outstayed its welcome. Another good track 9/10
08. Glitter Freeze (ft. Mark E Smith): opening up with the line where's north from here?' we have an SOS style keyboard beat fitting in with the sea fairing theme begin which is soon accompanied by a drum beat which at first sounds quite confusing together but once combined with the extremely distorted bass line and other synth part it smoothens out especially when the machinery style techno sequence comes in. It easily reminds me of a laser beam firing which is pretty damn cool. We have some strange interlude sequences with Mark Smith speaking of The Glitter Freeze before cutting back into the song once again. His large reverberated laugh sounds particularly creepy. From here however, the song sinks back into the common repetition factor and I begin to miss the sustained notes held by the laser beam keyboards. I really wish more vocals were present throughout this song but it's still pretty catchy 8/10
09. Some Kind of Nature (ft. Lou Reed): at first I was really alienated by this song. The almost monotone Lou Reed sounds like Microsoft Sam at first but actually fits in with the lovely back beat. 2D's vocals are warmly welcomed with a lovely melody to contrast with Lou's voice. Not to say that his voice is bad, because some of my favourite parts of this song are where his vocals seem to harmonise or join up with the melody of the song. I'm really fond of the chorus here and the repetitive just doesn't affect me here as it does with some of the other songs on the album. It's quite a strange break from some of the other songs but wow, it's awesome 10/10
10. On Melancholy Hill: future single from the album, this is one of the many songs on the album that reminds me of Albarn's side project The Good, The Bad & The Queen. Not to say this is a bad thing as I am a big fan of this project so the sound is welcomed but obviously alienated from other Gorillaz material. The song has a cheerful tone at first but the vocals add a tone of pessimistic shyness to it, following the title of the song. The song creates a strange balance between the depressive and blissful. Each emotion shines through at particular points but is never too overwhelming that one takes over completely 10/10
11. Broken: another future single for the album and one of the first demos released for the new album, we get a very distant and outer space style sounding song. 2D shines through once again especially during the chorus. Sure, it's just singing It's broken' several times but the way in which the vocals are presented with multiple voices is really creative and sounds brilliant. To be honest though, this song get's a bit samey, with nothing changing much and just repeating the second and first half over and over again. Something really should be repeating in this song to give it more diversity but either way, good song 9/10
12. Sweepstakes (ft. Mos Def & Hypnotic Brass Ensemble): I can't completely put my finger on it, but this is one of my least favourite songs on the album and possibly out of Gorillaz' entire catalogue. The rapping doesn't really appeal to me and the beat isn't anything evolutionary. Everything sounds pretty standard and nothing particularly stands out in my opinion. Unfortunately, the repetition of this track can't really be forgiven just because of how boring the track is and I find it painful sitting here trying to listen to the final three of four minutes left. Nearer to the end of the track, the musical side of the track starts to liven up with some brass instrumentation included but too little too late in my opinion. Thank God for the outro but I think it should have occurred earlier on 4/10
13. Plastic Beach (ft. Mick Jones & Paul Simonon): lovely sounding bass and guitar sound greets us into this next track as is expected with the inclusion of two members from The Clash. Soon enough, this intro breaks into a pretty awesome keyboard rhythm and 2D's wonderful vocals enter once again in multi-layered glory. Some of the higher pitched vocals sound out of place but they're not enough to majorly overwhelm the track. Certain elements of the keyboard playing reminds me of guitar virtuoso Buckethead's soloing technique which is not completely a bad or a good thing. Personally, I find although the vocals sound pretty good on this track, they're actually quite forgettable and don't stick out amongst the rest of the songs on the album 8/10
14. To Binge (ft. Little Dragon): Little Dragon makes her second appearance on the album and to me, immediately brings Lily Allen to mind over the almost Hawaiian back track. Shortly after, 2D enters too and I find it hard to decide whose voice I prefer in this track. Little Dragon takes the stage again after 2D and we switch between the two till the end of the track. Everything here combined with the lovely keyboard playing makes this track sound like an optimistically haunting luau. Another good sounding track albeit a little forgettable, fading out into the sound of waves and seagulls once again 8/10
15. Cloud of Unknowing (ft. Bob Womack & Sinfonia ViVa): and suddenly we have what sounds like a church organ slowly fade into our ears and Bobby Womack comes back to the scene. Some lovely soulful vocals once again sound brilliant as if preaching to God himself. It's strange because this song has certain elements of redemption and equal measure of the feeling that there is an upcoming danger, pretty much explaining the title of the song. Sitting here listening to this reminds me in ways of Don't Get Lost In Heaven from the Demon Days album. Either way, this is a brilliant track, fading out into orchestral brilliance and almost police siren noises again accompanied by the caw of seagulls 10/10
16. Pirate Jet: boing boing boing! This is certainly a strange sound to hear but soon the music comes together as an overall optimistic sounding song and we're faced with a large contrast to the previous song. 2D's vocals sound slightly disappointed with the world but still fit in with the song. Some lovely keyboard sounds here once again, some of which sounds as if it was taken from a B-Movie but still great. It's such a shame however that the song fades out not too long after it starts and we're given a bit of a disappointing end to what has been a pretty great album. Either way, still a good happy-ish way of rounding things up. Let's hope for another winner in the future 9/10
There are also two bonus tracks that are available with the various editions of this album, Pirate's Progress and Three Hearts, Seven Seas, Twelve Moons. Both of these are orchestrated pieces. Pirate's Progress is pretty much an extended version of the Orchestral Intro to the album and THSSTM has been heard whilst watching the Murdoc ident available on YouTube. Both tracks are pretty good but I decided to not completely comment on them as they are bonus tracks and people who purchase the standard edition of the album need not worry about them. // 8
Lyrics: Lyrically, I feel the album is quite strong in places albeit very weak in others. The initial concept of plastic beach was a location where the entirety of the sea's plastic has wound up and created a land mass. A lot of the lyrics deal with how humankind is slowly destroying themselves through their sheer amounts of natural resources wasted. For example, in Pirate Jet, we are reminded of mankind's waste of water we left the taps running for a hundred years. In Empire ants, 2D speaks of how the world is coming to an end and speaks of the increased consumption of alcohol, if the whole world is crashing down Where the emptiness we leave behind on warm air rising The falling alcohol empire is here to hold you We hear of issues concerning over population and electric love in Stylo, Overload, overload, overload Its love of electric, it'll be flowing on the streets. On Melancholy Hill continues dealing with the concept of love and such albeit in a slightly depressing fashion, Well you can't get what you want, but you can get me. Most of the vocals on the album are delivered confidently and ensure that the album sounds good albeit forgettable in places. Overall, as I said, I feel the album is quite strong lyrically, creating some catchy chorus and vocal melodies although it still can't compare with that of Demon Days and Gorillaz' self-titled. I also find that the lyrics may undermine the actually album's concept somewhat and it may not become apparent to listener's on their first listen through. I had to listen several times through certain songs to understand lyrics or work out some of what was being said both by 2D and the various guest vocalists. Speaking of which, I'd never heard of several of the guest vocalists that feature on Plastic Beach. Some of these I am extremely happy to have heard on the album such as Bobby Womack and his strong and soulful preacher's voice or Little Dragon and her soft but effective and slightly oriental infused vocals. Others however I am less thankful to hear such as Bashy's strange and off beat rapping on the track White Flag or the abstract sections of speech provided by Mark Smith during Glitter Freeze. There are some familiar faces also such as Mos Def and De La Soul as well as some famous new comers such as Snoop Dogg as well as Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash. Overall, there is a good cast of actors to play the musical parts on this album and they each add their own individual style to their tracks, be it a good or bad influence. Congratulations to Damon Albarn on the evolution of his side project even if the sound and lyrical styling have majorly changed since the days of Demon Days and their self titled album. It's just a shame really, considering throughout most of this album, I feel that Albarn (2D) takes too much of a vocal back seat during this album and the overwhelming repetitiveness of the album and how some of the songs just blend together and how some are just too forgettable let's the album down a bit. // 8
Overall Impression: Gorillaz, the creative brain child produced by Damon Albarn, the lead singer from Blur and side project The Good, The Bad & The Queen as well as the musical creator of Monkey: Journey to the West and the artist behind comic book Tank Girl, Jamie Hewlett, have been around since 1998 and released two fantastic albums prior to Plastic Beach. Does Plastic Beach have what it takes to be over take these two? In my opinion, not quite. I feel that both their self titled album and Demon Days were both experimental and dealt with various different musical sounds with style where as all the music in Plastic Beach sounds rather similar. Artistically, I feel that this new effort is well thought through. The artwork, packaging and display of the album are all traditional Gorillaz fair and are great to see. Even the giant model of Plastic Beach displayed on the front cover (the creation of which is documented on the bonus DVD that accompanies the CD in the special edition pack) looks brilliant and realistically created as if it really were a natural land mass. As said, the Gorillaz have been around for a while and have put out some nationally recognised hits such as Clint Eastwood, 19/2000, Feel Good Inc. DARE and various others proving they know how to create successful and catchy songs. I don't particularly feel there are songs on this album that equal up to any of these singles but they're still strong, just perhaps not single worthy, regardless of the fact that Stylo, Superfast Jellyfish, On Melancholy Hill and Broken are all planned for single releases, but who am I to complain? Either way, musically, the album isn't quite as impressive as the past few albums, despite some awesome collaboration and artistically, it's as strong if not strong as the past albums. Some fans may not like the change in direction that Gorillaz have taken but it grows on you. I can still remember the first time I listened to Stylo. All in all, I love this album and it was definitely worth the wait although I still do prefer Demon Days and the self titled. Thanks for reading! // 8