Album Review: Gorillaz - Plastic Beach, 3/5 (***)

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By Ali Quaile It’s been five years since Damon Albarn has released anything from his cartoon electronic, pop, hip- hop outfit Gorillaz. The third studio album from the group and one of the most highly anticipated albums of 2010 but is it any good? I think the problem with creating so much hype around an album is that unless it’s an absolute masterpiece one tends to be disappointed and I think that is definitely the case here.

I think the main problem with this album is that it is trying to be too ambitious as a follow up to ‘Demon Days’ which was beautifully produced by Danger Mouse was always going to be difficult. Given the massively high status of Gorillaz they are pretty much able to pick and choose any artist they like to collaborate with as can be seen in ‘Plastic Beach’ with the huge array of guest artists from differing genres. There is a sense that this album is almost overproduced with Albarn trying to mix genres together where they don’t go. For example the song ‘White Flag’ which features Kano, Bashy & The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music rather than blending together in an original fashion it seems to be very much stop and start between the very different orchestral music which cuts off abruptly as the hip hop begins.

Very much a conceptual album it seems to point towards the direction that the music industry is currently heading towards where in the name of originality artists are attempting to mash together competing types of music as can be seen in the emergence of fusion genres such as folktronica and crunk. It seems unusual to combine hip hop artists and rock artists on the same record but this is exactly what Albarn has done making it appear more of a mixtape than an album.

Don’t get me wrong, although this may sound a very pessimistic review many of the songs taken on their own are really quite excellent, for example ‘Superfast Jellyfish’ featuring Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals and Gorillaz regular De La Soul is a very upbeat hip hop track with a melodious chorus from Albarn that works really well. ‘Some Kind of Nature’ featuring Lou Reed from The Velvet Underground with his gruff vocals, staccato piano and electronic drums and synths along with Albarns soothing tones in the chorus is exquisite and ‘Plastic Beach’ featuring the Clash’s Mick Jones and Paul Simonon is another standout track.Not just that but some of the Albarn only tracks are brilliant as well such as ‘On Melancholy Hill’.

It seems difficult then to judge the album as it contains some truly exceptional tracks as would be expected from Gorillaz but personally I don’t feel it flows as an album. Perhaps it is something that grows on the listener with time and one becomes able to appreciate the links between the tracks and see what Albarn is trying to portray but there is a definite sense that in attempting to compile the best collection of superstar appearances something has been lost in the production of the music.

‘Plastic Beach’ is to be released on March 8th

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