Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
How do a multi-million selling, animated band relax after years of toiling away at their art? In the case of Gorillaz, you decamp to a secret floating island deep in the South Pacific to ponder life and work on the creation of your next opus. In the five years since the release of their last record, Demon Days, main man 2D fled the strictures of island life and resurrected his flesh and blood alter ego, Damon Albarn. Amongst other things, Albarn collaborated on the rather spiffing The Good, The Bad And The Queen album and tour. He also performed, to some acclaim, at a few small gatherings with his floppy haired former Brit Pop pals. Naturally, that could not sustain him for long, so he returned to the bosom of his animated chums: Murdoc Niccals, Russel Hobbs and Noodle. Together they called in some favours with a number of notable popular music luminaries and hunkered down to finish off their latest offering. The result is Plastic Beach and boy was it worth the wait.
On first inspection, Gorillaz appear to have made a scattergun attempt to cover every possible musical base, but repeated plays reveal a deeply textured and involving album that grabs and tickles every sinew. A lush orchestral introduction leads in to the trip-hop splendour of ‘Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach’, featuring a wonderfully laid back performance from Snoop Dogg, surely his best performance in many years. ‘White Flag’ follows but the hip-hop stylings of Kano and Bashy do not sit well with the majestic eastern rhythms of The National Orchestra For Arabic Music and provides the only slight stutter in an otherwise flawless offering.
It is difficult to single out the best of the numerous collaborations but special mention must go to The Fall’s notorious curmudgeon, Mark E. Smith who leads us in to the electronic beats of ‘Glitter Freeze’ with a question most of us will have mulled over at some point, "Where’s North from here?" Smith then growls some lyrics in his own inimitable style to stunning effect over the electronic backing. Trumping Smith is normally a very hard task but one that been achieved with ease by the legendary Bobby Womack. Lead off single ‘Stylo’ moves along gently with vocals from Mos Def and 2D but only when Womack’s towering voice kicks in does the song really start to hit the spot. He returns on ‘Cloud Of Unknowing’ to provide a wonderfully melancholic performance backed to great effect by Sinfonia ViVA. It simply doesn’t get much better than this.
As 2D and his pals bring proceedings to a close with the jaunty ‘Pirate Jet’, it becomes clear that Gorillaz have produced their best album to date. Plastic Beach ebbs and flows like the waves lapping at the shores of their island and just keeps on giving. It will surely stay with you for a very long time.