It’s been 12 years since Blur songster and Britpop poster boy Damon Albarn first sat down with comic book artist Jamie Hewlett to draft their response to the decaying state of the music industry, and yet there’s never been a time where the message of their avant-garde virtual band was quite so pertinent. These days our stars are force-fed to us by Simon Cowell and reality television, our chart-topping singles merely cover versions of songs that were cutting edge decades ago, and the entire concept of “pop music” is relegated to fodder for our celebrity voyeurism: penned by the talented, performed by the beautiful. This could be why the illusory members of Gorillaz have emigrated to this plastic beach, a far-flung island formed entirely of consumer waste and detritus, which Albarn has gathered and tailored to form what could well be his magnum opus.
Plastic Beach is just as good as the previous full-lengths by Damon Albarn's animated front for collaborations, Gorillaz. The self-titled debut and follow-up Demon Days were both marked by a quality henceforth unheard in fake cartoon bands, and even more surprisingly stood up to re-listenings, aging surely into classics. Plastic Beach marks the first time Albarn has produced Gorillaz at album length after yielding the boards to Automator and Danger Mouse on previous efforts.
Documentaries, B-sides compilations, opera scores, and remixes aside, sometime Blur frontman Damon Albarn's current flagship Gorillaz hasn't released new music in ages. If there's anything to be learned from the last decade of Albarn's professional recording career, though, it's that nary a second goes to waste. It becomes clear early on during Plastic Beach, the third album from Gorillaz, Albarn's multimedia project with artist Jamie Hewlett and a veritable phalanx of in-demand producers, session musicians and collaborators, that the time that has elapsed between Plastic Beach and 2005's Demon Days has been spent globetrotting and absorbing new influences.
Forget the cartoon characters. Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's animated misfits have always been mainly interesting as a concept, and on much of the third Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach, it feels like Albarn and co. are ditching the idea of writing pop songs a cartoon band might front anyway. The one-time Blur frontman has transcended some of the post-modern artifice of this project, and created the group's most affecting and uniquely inviting album.
Let me start with an admission. You see, Gorillaz are the only band I ever truly wanted to be in; I long to live in their houses, drive their dune buggy and pash with Russel. And I shan’t lie, I did want to be Tank Girl as a youngling and I did once spend 10 hours holding a door in order to secure entry to a Blur gig. I mention this not out of dreary one-upmanship of course, I say it so that we are quite clear from the off: I am biased.
The Blur documentary No Distance Left to Run is a film that elicits a complex series of emotions from the viewer. Confronted with footage of the band in their 90s pomp, it's hard not to feel the way Michael Palin described feeling upon encountering the young Peter Cook: you do rather boggle at the sheer unfairness of anyone being that talented and that handsome. If you favoured Oasis during the Battle of Britpop, it's also hard not to suffer a pang of regret: you feel a bit stupid, like an early-70s record buyer who somehow came to conclusion that Showaddywaddy were better than Roxy Music.
Identity is a construct. It’s a story we tell about ourselves. Sometimes the story becomes too much of a burden, and we spend more time trying to make it coherent than actually being able to go about the business of living. The eye can’t see itself, after all. It’s possible that all the ….
Prior to Plastic Beach's release, Damon Albarn called it the poppiest record he's ever made. Maybe he's operating under a different definition of pop, because Gorillaz' first album in five years is neither light nor easily digestible. It has hooks, but none as immediate as past Gorillaz hits Feel Good Inc. or 19-2000.
Twelve years ago, Blur frontman Damon Albarn and Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett formed Gorillaz — a ”virtual band” whose animated avatars and woozy beats pastiche seemed custom-fit for a dawning era of smartphones, iPods, and other Jetson-y gizmos. ”I’m useless, but not for long/The future is comin’ on,” Albarn drawled on their first single, the dubby alt-chart hit ”Clint Eastwood.” He was right: Gorillaz’ self-titled debut sold ?almost 2 million copies in the U.S. and made them stars, albeit in physical absentia (even in live performances, they are hidden behind ? giant cartoon projections).
The year is 2001. Commercialism in music has reached a fever pitch. Corporation-designed music groups like the Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, and Destiny’s Child have all topped recent Billboard charts. The tug of war between digital music consumers and media conglomerates is in its infancy. The ….
Gorillaz began as a lark but turned serious once it became Damon Albarn’s primary creative outlet following the slow dissolve of Blur. Delivered five years after the delicate whimsical melancholy of 2005’s Demon Days, Plastic Beach is an explicit sequel to its predecessor, its story line roughly picking up in the dystopian future where the last album left off, its music offering a grand, big-budget expansion of Demon Days, spinning off its cameo-crammed blueprint. Traces of Albarn’s Monkey opera can be heard, particularly in the hypnotic Mideastern pulse of “White Flag,” but Damon’s painstaking pancultural pop junk-mining no longer surprises -- when hip-hop juts up against Brit-pop, it’s expected -- yet it still has the capacity to delight no matter which direction the Gorillaz may swing.
Gorillaz :: Plastic BeachVirgin/EMI RecordsAuthor: Steve 'Flash' JuonThe concept of virtual reality has become increasingly familiar to the average Joe in the last 20 years. Previous to that it was largely the domain of science fiction and Hollywood thrillers, made menacing by the likes of Jobe Smith in The Lawnmower Man or as familiar and friendly as a Star Trek holodeck. The emergence of the world wide web made the concept much more accessible to the layperson as the internet was no longer a text-only world, and one could not only conceive of but participate in realities that only existed electronically.
2001. Boy bands continued to reign, and music fans, for the most part, still bought physical CDs at some store called Best Buy (you might have heard of it). So naturally, when Gorillaz's self-titled debut was released that year, there was something incredibly refreshing about it. One of Britpop's heroes, Damon Albarn of Blur, had reclaimed pop music with his droll yet wide-ranging voice, and infused it with cleverness and simplicity and, uh, animated characters.
GORILLAZ “Plastic Beach” (Virgin). Though widely loved, Gorillaz have always been easy to hate — a fictional, animated band heavier on shtick than on sound. A vanity project of the musician Damon Albarn (of Blur) and the cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, the group has been a mild artistic success, a ….
Lapping waves introduce Snoop Dogg dropping dystopian Planet of the Apes verse in opener "Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach." Greenpeace ensues until Damon Albarn shuffles his best simian gene hop since "Feel Good Inc" with a synthetic ballad straight out of the Thompson Twins' laptop. In the downbeat drip of "Rhinestone Eyes" blink "paralytic dreams" of our refuse culture. Follow that with the steely club pulse of Albarn, Mos Def, and Bobby Womack ("Stylo"), then De La Soul and Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys popover "Superfast Jellyfish," plus bloomin' Technicolor fruition "Empire Ants" and UV rays apply an atom tan.
The scope and depth of Plastic Beach is staggering. Mark Beaumont 2010 The Plastic Beach back story – colourful fluff about cyborg bassists, kidnapped singers and islands made of trash – might make you think the whole cartoon band conceit is wearing a bit thin. Listen, though, and it makes more sense than ever. Only behind such a distracting smokescreen could Damon Albarn get away with conducting a project as sprawling, daring, innovative, surprising, muddled and magnificent as Plastic Beach: not just one of the best records of 2010, but a release to stand alongside the greatest Albarn’s ever been involved with and a new benchmark for collaborative music as a whole.
Somewhere between the brilliance that was Demon Days and the excellent debut that was their self-titled effort, Gorillaz pushed the boundaries of pop music to new realms. Delving deeper and into a world of synths, hip-hop collaborations, dancefloor hooks, delectable melodies and propulsive production, Damon Albarn wanted to push everything that much farther with their latest triumph, Plastic Beach. Now, more than ever, Albarn and Co.