Gorillaz “Plastic Beach” Album Review

March 18, 2010 in Album RealViews

01.  Orchestral Intro (ft. sinfonia ViVA) Starting off with the sound of waves on a – you guessed it – beach, it slowly turns into a slow, orchestral piece that seems fitting for a movie. It’s melodic and I love the one repeating note. As an intro, it doesn’t really prepare you for what to expect from the rest of the album (although it technically tells you how random “Plastic Beach” is).

Grade: 70

02. Welcome to the Plastic Beach (ft. Snoop Dogg and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble) Transitioning from the end of the “Orchestral Intro” track into a very cartoonish sounding trumpet, then into a chill bass line, only to reintroduce the retro horns from the intro – yeah, the song is eclectic. Snoop Dogg is about as laid back as he can get and that’s a good thing as his delivery oddly fits the track. Think of it as another intro song, but a pretty darn good one at that.

Grade: 70

03. White Flag (ft. Kano and The National Orchestra for Arabic Music) I love the intro to this song. The first few seconds start off with just some tribal congo beat work. Then some Disney-sounding flutes kick in to give it this irresistible chirpy and fun vibe. It definitely has a “sunny day in the Middle East” vibe to it but then the track takes a complete 360 and turns into a reggae-tinged rap. The delivery is fine and all, it’s just that I wasn’t too fond of it. I was hoping they’d rap over the great intro or that Damon Albarn would take the reigns and sing. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic to hear those bouncy flutes and strings from the intro come back and close out the song.

Grade: 83

04. Rhinestone Eyes Ah, about time Damon’s (AKA 2-D’s) voice is heard! His vocals are quirky (not in just the way it sounds, but in also the way he delivers) and that’s what I love about him. The drums start off as relatively quiet with some sonic bleeps and bloops accompanying it and it’s actually rather catchy. The production on this track is tight yet manages to stay relatively calm.

Grade: 81

05. Stylo (ft. Mos Def and Bobby Womack) As the lead single off the album, “Stylo” does a great job of encompassing the whole style of the album. It has a catchy bass line that you can’t help but nod along to and an infectious refrain from Damon that will leave you with no other option but to sing along to. Bobby Womack’s thunderous delivery is another highlight as he wails his way through the chorus and to great effect. Mos Def’s muted delivery is an excellent contribution. I originally reviewed this single some time ago and I was down on it then, but it’s grown on me now.

Grade: 88

06. Superfast Jellyfish (ft. Gruff Rhys and De La Soul) This track starts off unorthodox (which is standard in Gorillaz world, really) but it slowly develops into one of the more catchier songs. Damon churns out a catchy chorus and the beat has a fun, bouncy atmosphere. You can practically hear the fun that was had when they put this track together in the studio. Gruff Rhys and De La Soul are on the money in both their delivery and lyrics. The strange, chipmunk-sounding backing vocals goes a long way in creating the song’s infectious vibe.

Grade: 84

07. Empire Ants (ft. Little Dragon) Probably the most laid back effort on the album, “Empire Ants” is melodic and, in a way, kind of haunting – that is, until the bass and drums come in. It’s a song that seems like something you’d do some introspecting to and Little Dragon’s pleasant voice provides for a nice mix-up in the track.

Grade: 78

08. Glitter Freeze (ft. Mark E Smith) An interlude that probably goes on for a minute or three too long, “Glitter Freeze” is a good instrumental piece but it overstays its welcome. The repetition sinks in pretty quick. They don’t mix up the track at all (unless you count the random pieces of speech) – skip it.

Grade: 50

09. Some Kind of Nature (ft. Lou Reed) Possibly my favorite track off “Plastic Beach” (it’s either this track or the next one, “On Melancholy Hill”), “Some Kind of Nature” has the oddest vocal delivery from Lou Reed yet it works perfectly with the happy-sounding beat. The piano and the jumpy bass give the track a great mood. Damon, again, gives another catchy-as-hell hook to sink our teeth in. It’s one of the few tracks that resemble anything close to their previous work. Easily one of the best tracks on the album.

Grade: 93

10. On Melancholy Hill “On Melancholy Hill” is a damn fine track with a thick bassline and various chirpy instruments playing. The synth play here is, while subtle, excellent. It’s the nuances in this track that make it outstanding. Damon’s words are quietly delivered but the melody is perfect and near-impossible not to sing along to. How you can listen to this track without rocking your head from side to side is beyond me.

Grade: 94

11. Broken The intro of this song has some strange, almost UFO-like sounding synths. One of the more subdued songs on the album, “Broken” isn’t that great a track, but it’s not terrible either. The bass does get repetitive and the aforementioned UFO synths can get annoying. In other words, don’t expect too many repeat listens from “Broken”.

Grade: 60

12. Sweepstakes (ft. Mos Def) Ever been curious as to how Mos Def would sound on top of a more electronic-driven beat? Well, his delivery is fine – it’s just too bad that the beat takes forever to build up into anything worth listening. The whole instrumental track for the first couple of minutes is pretty damn grinding to the ears and, dare I say it, kind of shitty. The track improves subtly with some trumpets but, by then, “Sweepstakes” probably has already lost its listener (it definitely lost me).

Grade: 35

13. Plastic Beach (ft. Mick Jones and Paul Simonon) The title track is somewhat disappointing. Sprinkled here and there is some Final Fantasy-sounding synths. The verses are dull and the chorus is decent at best. At least they apply some funky filters to the vocals to some later choruses to mix things up a bit (as well as a Tetris-sounding outtro), but it’s not enough for me to recommend this track.

Grade: 65

14. To Binge (ft. Little Dragon) Little Dragon’s nice and soft voice returns here for a duet with Damon. “To Binge” has a mood that’s fitting for some indie film since the track is dominated by the vocal interplay between the two. You have some quiet synth work and a “wah” sounding guitar that help build a retro-sounding atmosphere. It’s a variation on the “I love you” song, with some nifty lyrics. A great, relaxed track.

Grade: 90

15. Cloud of Unkowing (ft. Bobby Womack and sinfonia ViVA) Another very mellow track, “Cloud of Unkowing” is probably too slow for its own good. The melody for both the vocals and instruments, I feel, isn’t strong enough to carry the song. It’s a dull affair and I tried hard to appreciate the song, but I ended up just falling asleep (totally delayed my review by an hour or two). Although I understand the intent Damon was going for on this track, this is definitely a one-and-done track for me.

Grade: 50

16. Pirate Jet So how well does “Pirate Jet” close out this very mixed album? It does so in disappointingly “meh” fashion. I definitely dig the quirky and wacky atmosphere the starry synths set up and that’s about all it has going for it. “Pirate Jet” does a disservice to the album by ending the mostly good “Plastic Beach” on a whimper. Maybe I’m missing something here, but I don’t understand the choice of “Pirate Jet” as the closer. It actually sounds like an interlude since it seems to go by so fast.

Grade: 52

“Plastic Beach” is a very eclectic album and, I’m going to warn you in advance, you’re going to be bored on your first listen. If you’ve grown accustomed to their previous hits like “Dare”, “Feel Good, Inc.”, or “Clint Eastwood”, you will be disappointed as you skip through each track looking for that instantly appealing hit. The latest effort from Gorillaz is a more understated effort and you have to really want to like it in order to appreciate it. In other words, it isn’t for everyone. It’s in the nuances and the little details that make “Plastic Beach” unique and, for the most part, excellent.

The weakest tracks are those that don’t have Damon in them at all. The guests here do fine work, but some of the collaborations just don’t do the album any good (like Bobby Womack on “Cloud of Unkowing” or Mos Def on “Sweepstakes” – well, there’s no saving that song, actually). It’s worth noting what a departure this album is from their previous work and it’s definitely a ballsy move on their part and I say that it paid off. Now, what the hell will Damon and his cartoon band of misfits do next?


Instruments: 83