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Review

New Gorillaz album features ‘pop’ music with substance

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March 26, 2010

The first image that comes to mind when one thinks of the Gorillaz is, of course, the cartoon characters. The animated foursome of 2D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle and Russel Hobbs have appeared in video games, toured across the globe and even performed at the Grammy’s alongside a gyrating Madonna. However, with all the media attention that the virtual bandmates have received over the past decade, it’s easy to forget that their very existence is a result of a rebellion against diluted and meaningless pop music.

Brit-pop icon Damon Albarn and comic book artist Jamie Hewlett formed the group in 1998 after being nauseated by the bland and counterfeit content they found all too commonplace in the music videos that looped endlessly on television.

“If you watch MTV for too long, it’s a bit like hell — there’s nothing of substance there,” Hewlett said.

On Plastic Beach, the latest Gorillaz LP, Albarn has once again formed a collection of capable and diverse guest artists –this time delivering a series of environmentally-conscious tracks—warning of a future dystopia in which everything has become disposable. The end result is the most “real” Gorillaz release to date.

The album kicks of in somewhat uneven fashion; “Orchestral Intro,” performed by the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music, is enthralling and entrancing, but over seemingly in the blink of an eye. “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach,” which follows, is a trippy and psychedelic track that achieves the near-impossible feat of making Snoop Dogg (an ironic guest choice, considering his MTV reality show fame) tolerable. It’s also perhaps the first instance in which Snoop goes an entire three minutes without once referencing himself.

“White Flag” sees U.K. rappers Kano and Bashy covering a wide array of topics, including religion and war, over a faint Mideastern backdrop. “There’s no bomb here, there’s no war cause / I can break out of jail with a lighter / So is there any point in making laws, blood?” Bashy asks in the opening verse, revealing himself to be more thoughtful than the typical grime MC.

Though Albarn claims that Plastic Beach is the Gorillaz’ most characteristically pop album yet—the lack of a big hit single is glaring. By no means does the record need an overly catchy, top-40 track, but the lack of a “Feel Good Inc.” or “Clint Eastwood” is immediately apparent. However, “Stylo” features a howling Bobby Womack and Mos Def on an interesting space-disco journey.

The record isn’t without failures. “Superfast Jellyfish” tries to push the creative and artistic envelope, but simply comes off as incredibly annoying and confusing— somewhat shocking, considering it is performed by De La Soul who was also responsible for “Feel Good Inc.”

We can clearly see Albarn evolving as a composer—if this can truly be considered a “pop record,” it goes to show what a distorted view Albarn has of the genre. With all the unique synths, hypnotic beats and vocals that occasionally fail to register completely, it occasionally feels that the final product is simply too much. At times, it can feel quite lonely. Plastic Beach isn’t perfect, but it is extremely forward-thinking and damn entertaining.

Andrew Phelps is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.