Album Plastic Beach
For a person who puts John Mayer and Alexi Murdoch on loop, writing a review on Plastic Beach by Gorillaz is like eating soap. I ducked and ignored every reason or chance to begin the task of writing and I just couldn't stretch it anymore and gave it a listen and then another and then a few more and now I even have it stored on my iPod! To listen to the music, one ought to know exactly who or ‘what' the Gorillaz is or are. Gorillaz is a virtual band that was created in 1998 by Damon Albarn (for the uninitiated, member of the band, Blur). The band uses comic characters created by Jamie Hewlett of the ‘Tank Girl' fame rather than the real musicians. Plastic Beach is their third album and has maintained the number two spot on US Billboard 200 and UK Albums Chart in the first week of sale. Coming to the music, of the sixteen tracks listed in the CD, some teased and pleasantly surprised my musical nerves. The music is primarily electronic and includes a lot of rap and R&B.
Orchestral Intro: Flamboyant string arrangements with sounds of waves crashing, provide the perfect intro, segueing seamlessly into the next track. Hip hop's perpetual aristocrat, Snoop Dogg makes the first heavyweight guest appearance in his inimitable style, accompanied by the wails of the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, he really does ‘Welcome you to the World of the Plastic Beach'.
White Flag starts off with very Oriental-esque instrumental arrangement, courtesy The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music. This sets the stage for a hip-hop duel between British artists Kano and Bashy, amidst some throbbing percussion. The placement of the track on the album however, musically, leaves one wanting. Rhinestone Eyes, undoubtedly a potential single of the album, is one of the standout tracks. With accompanying beeps and funky synth work, Albarn, under the guise of 2D, delivers his lines in a way that is a throwback to his shoegazing-era vocals. It contains one of the most addictive choruses in recent memory.
With a thumping bass line that drives the song, it's hardly surprising that Stylo was chosen as the first single. Mos Def's muffled verses and Albarn's dreamy vocals complement the track, but soul exponent Bobby Womack steals the show. His scream about 3 minutes into the track, is aural pleasure exemplified.
Superfast Jellyfish, while possessing a cheery vibe, actually seems to be a sardonic dig at the fast food consumption habits of today's world, tying in with the consumerism-related theme of the album. It features Welsh musician Gruff Rhys and second-time collaborators, De la Soul, whose previous effort with the Gorillaz yielded the mighty Feel Good Inc. in 2005. Empire Ants begins with a soulful, mellow vibe with 2D singing, when the vocals of Yukimi Nagano, of Swedish electronic band, Little Dragon, emerge in magniloquence and carry on for about two minutes, giving the track a surreal feel. The next track marks a departure from the mellow sound achieved seven tracks in. With an overpowering bass line, and a repetitive drum pattern, Glitter Freeze, sounds like an electronic apocalyptic interpretation of the world. Mark E. Smith of British post-punk band, The Fall, features in a cameo.
Plastic Beach seems to have a surprising number of highs already. Albarn pulls off yet another coup by having Lou Reed (Yes, Lou Reed!) do his act on Some Kind of Nature. In his trademark deadpan delivery style, with some irresistible stutters added, Reed walks you through this happy rhythm. This track is amazing. Undoubtedly, the tracks on which Albarn performs solo, have something special going for them. On Melancholy Hill is a fairly straightforward number which doesn't really convey the melancholy the title suggests. A great song to listen to on headphones and look all starry-eyed. The next track, Broken, however, exudes melancholies. A simple, heartfelt song, with Albarn handling vocal duties alone once again, it wouldn't be surprising if you find yourself playing this on loop. Mos Def and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble return together in Sweepstakes, which is an interesting experiment in alternative hip hop. The whole song is a societal jab with some great lines and a booming brass section. Will not work for everyone though.
The title track is an absolute delight with Paul Simonon and Mick Jones of legendary punk rock outfit, The Clash, guesting. In ‘computer speech', 2D talks about the concept of the Plastic Beach, amidst funky beeps and synths. This number has Gorillaz music video written all over it.
Little Dragon is back on To Binge, where Yukimi Nagano performs a soft duet with Damon Albarn. Both their vocals complement each other perfectly, making it an easy listen. As the album draws to a close, Bobby Womack makes his second appearance on Cloud of Unknowing; a soulful number, accompanied by sinfonia ViVA. While sounding the most different from all other songs, it fits perfectly on the record. Piercing organ-sounding synthesisers along with droning vocals, make the finale seem a lot boisterous in comparison to the preceding tracks. Pirate Jet is a surprising and fitting end to this fine album.
With the term ‘concept album' being bandied about freely in recent times, Damon Albarn has truly managed to create one, in his own matchless style.
VISHNUPRIYA B. and SIDDHARTH KARTIKEYAN, III Year, BA Journalism, MCC
Keywords: Plastic Beach