gorillaz plastic beach
  • TUESDAY, MARCH 09, 2010

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Characterizing Gorillaz is kind of like defining 'umami,' the mysterious fifth "taste" that westerners qualify with "meaty" or "savory". Sure we know it when we eat it, but it has no basic element can it be compared to (it doesn't exist like salt or sugar). The Japanese seem to have a better handle on it (or at least an earlier one, hence the proper name). Funny that Damon Albarn also takes on a mysteriously eastern flair (a personal interest), with his Monkeying around on the side and his anime obsession. Gorillaz are the most successful virtual band according to the Guiness Book of World Records, and that is no simulation. The music has evolved from a simple Blur offspring to something much more futuristic and electronic in nature, spawning orchestral interludes, narratives, and easter eggs for music fans and comic book nerds alike (of which I am all of the above). In short: Gorillaz has become Albarn's own personal dynasty.

Plastic Beach continues along the trojectory, although the hip-hop/electronica lean seems to have come full swing for 2-D and the gang. Rappers guest star all over the place, but they don't 'make' any of the songs; Gorillaz stand on their own with their unique take on things like "trip-hop" and "alternative raps", tying everything together. First single "Stylo" harkens back to the jaunty charm of their first hit "Clint Eastwood" while sounding much more Demon Days than their earlier work. But watch the video closely, study the characters and their actions... "Welcome To The World" is a solid effort with Snoop providing the narrative voice, welcoming us into the strange world of the record. Plastic Beach can be analyzed as a linear story, with the music videos providing clues to the action. A little less simple rock music, a little more Comic Con mystique. Maybe.

The best part is that you don't need to know any of this to enjoy the record. I tend to gravitate toward Albarn's songs (or in this case, "2-D", the character he voices). Often cited as the softer of the Gorillaz (Russ raps, Noodle doesn't talk or is kind of dead in the chronology? And Murdoc is often the antagonist), 2-D has some of the more poetic and interesting songs. "Rhinestone Eyes" is an instant classic with its neo-rock riff and rhinestone-rain imagery. "Empire Ants" is a great demonstration of Albarn's fluidity while transitioning from atmospheric to trance, (the former being a dream-like state, the latter being a bass-induced coma). There is of course the year 3000 DJ chic, like Mark Smith's track "Glitter Rain", and the bubbly collab "Stylo" with Bobby Womack and Mos Def, both of which are standouts. Collaboration is key with Albarn and his cast of characters.

"Melancholy Hill" takes it to a different pop realm than some of the other tracks, and really nails the aesthetic of Plastic Beach; mostly chilled, with a chance of rappers (they don't show on that particular track). Overall the concept is played well and mostly subconcious, plastic packaging controlling the world, peppered with sound bytes from old commercials, the idea of "Sweepstakes" discussed toungue-in-cheek, all really come together. While none of the songs are instantly sticky (as "Clint Eastwood" and "Feel Good Inc." were before them), as a whole Plastic Beach feels like their most cohesive piece to date. Attribute it to Albarn's worldliness, but it might just be that the whole thing really sounds like a "casio on a plastic beach", the excellent image on the albums title track. I can't say I've ever seen it, but I'm positive this how it would sound. Umami indeed. -joe puglisi

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MP3:"Stylo" (Plastic Beach)
Gorillaz on Myspace

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