By J Meagher | April 23rd, 2010
I have better luck reviewing albums as a whole and not focusing on specific tracks. I like albums that play with themes and concepts to the point where the sum of the album is greater than it’s parts. I have NEVER been able to do that with a Gorillaz album. The first two Gorillaz albums are disjointed messes of ideas and stories that I’ve really enjoyed by pulling out the tracks I like and burying the rest. That’s why I was so excited to read that the Gorillaz were working on a concept album! Ahhhh the land of Plastic Beach will bring some much desired continuity and meaning to their music.
What I’ve discovered is this: Plastic Beach is just as much of a musical mess as their previous releases, while being less ambitious and more self indulgent. I just can’t get over the idea that the Gorrilaz project is solely for Damon Albarn’s amusement, which isn’t a bad thing, but did we really need Bobby Womack on two songs here? I don’t feel like I can take this seriously as a “concept” album because the narrative, with its environmental undertones, is so weak that it doesn’t really add anything to the album.
As for the individual tracks there are some great songs here. “Rhinestone Eyes” is a standout track. Albarn’s dispassionate delivery juxtaposed with the funky, organ driven music suggests a melancholy that doesn’t need to be explained in order to be understood. Songs like “Rhinestone” and the excellent Lou Reed supported “Some Kind of Nature” manage to create atmosphere naturally, other tracks such as “To Binge”, “Broken”, and “Melancholy Hill” (really?) sort of just tell you how the song should make you feel.
Hip Hop joints “White Flag” and “Superfast Jellyfish” make me think I’ve wandered onto the set of Yo Gabba Gabba or The Wiggles, which I guess isn’t inherently a bad thing but those two tracks represent the majority of the hip hop on the album. Contributions from MF Doom, Del tha Funky Homosapien, and De La Soul used to be highlights on Gorillaz albums. Now the hip-hop element sounds like the soundtrack to some cracked out kids show.
Speaking of Yo Gabba Gabba, Mos Def does provide a brief glimmer of awesome on my favorite song on the album. “Sweepstakes” features Mos conjuring wacked out images of the chaos, luck, randomness of life while the track builds into a demented zombie marching band stomp. Other tracks just don’t achieve this success: “Stylo” sounds like random noises thrown on top of the theme from Knight Rider. Instrumental track “Glitter Freeze” would have been badass if Muse hadn’t already done it on the opening track from their most recent album.
Thematically, the album concerns the degeneration of the environment. For Gorillaz, though, the ruthless exploitation of our planet isn’t just an inconvenient truth; it’s a terrific metaphor for postmodern artistry. The way that far-flung detritus ends up on a beach in the middle of the ocean is evidence of chaos theory’s cruel logic. The metaphor suggests that culture is really just an ocean of unmoored trash, washing up on far shores, waiting to be reused and recycled.
While I certainly enjoyed reading and appreciating that statement, I think he’s seriously grasping at straws here. Even if Albarn’s environmental sentiment is an honest one, it doesn’t escape being an unessential one, and that comes off as lazy to me.
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