During the recording process, Damon Albarn suggested that Gorillaz third album, Plastic Beach, would be the most pop thing he has ever done. Certainly the British interpretation of “pop” is different from the American one, as there is no Britney Spears or Lady Gaga included on this disc. However the opposite may be true, as Plastic Beach seems like the heaviest of the three platters, presented as a loose-knit narrative LP that truly can only be digested as a whole, rather than on a piecemeal basis.
Taking a darker, moodier tone throughout, the album opens with one Bigg Snoop Dogg, who introduces the Plastic Beach using his own distinct style and flair. This leads directly into “White Flag”, backed by The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music, along with lyrics from international emcees Bashy and Kano. It’s not until the fourth track actually, that we hear the voice of Albarn, who speaks his vocals on the haunting “Rhinestone Eyes”, which is trademark Gorillaz. This leads into the albums dark and lovely disco anthem, “Stylo”, as Mos Def gets ultramagnetic over melancholy electrofunk.
While much of the album carries this depressive tone, De La Soul inject some much needed humor into the record with “Superfast Jellyfish”, a breakfast jingle anthem that treats the ocean like a big bowl of cereal, complete with prize inside. Things are taken back down a notch on the meditative “Empire Ants”, which seems to prod on infinitely at first, but ultimately rewards the listener with the funkiest of basslines, which many won’t pick up until the third time through.
The album’s second half seems to venture out further into the deep blue sea, for better or for worse. In fact, it’s more akin to Albarn’s last entry – The Good, The Bad, and The Queen – spending much more time with muted basslines and moody vocals, as tracks like “On Melancholy Hill”, “Cloud of Unknowing”, and “Broken” help wind down an already sleepy release. The album’s second collaboration with Mos Def is also included here, the bleepy “Sweepstakes”, but is far too experimental for it’s own good.
Despite the cereal jingle and the Snoop Dogg intro, Plastic Beach is anything but fast food, and instead as a long, slow burner. Unlike the group’s previous releases, there’s something missing this time around. Perhaps it’s the extra edge in the drums that hip-hop producers like Dan The Automator and Danger Mouse added to their previous releases; or maybe this LP simply lacks the wall to wall fun so heavily prevalent in the past. Regardless, this should not be dismissed – this is still a melodically brilliant release that is well put together, with more integrity than pretty much everything it’s competing with, but it just slightly misses the mark.
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