Sunday, September 18, 2011

Welcome to the plastic beach

A slow grower that may not hit at first, but it does sink in.

Gorillaz were always a bit of a lark - in 2001 they arrived as the dance/hip hop/brit pop collision masterminded by Damon Albarn, helped along by Dan "The Automator" Nakumura, Miho Hattori and Tina Weymouth/Chris Frantz. This began the exercise, and even if the only constant album to album was Damon Albarn, he always managed to find interesting people to mix it up with. He pulled the strings, his collaborators did their thing and their own unique talents mixed with Damon's britpop sensibility. From the droll beat-popped melancholy of "Clint Eastwood" or the trip-stomping "Feel Good Inc." with De la soul ripping it up in between Albarn's tortured cadences, this project always new how to cuisinart it with the best of them. So how does Plastic Beach measure up?

I will admit - first listen, I was only so-so on it. There were some standout awesome tracks, but the rest just left me hanging. A little while in, and it has grown on me. It starts with the restrained, orchestra driven intro with snoop dogg restrained and NOT in his usual mode, verbally rambling over a symphonic hip hop beat - great way to introduce, drags you in, and "White Flag" continues the vein of that rarest of rare things - intelligent hip hop. "Stylo" pulls off a hat trick and blends that with truly classic vocal styling (Bobby Womack anyone?) before dropping the serious bent and going straight into what happened to my head?!?!? territory with the goofy, catchy, out of this world "Superfast jellyfish". And yet that goofy fun descends into the depths of despair in a single track as "Empire Ants" rolls in with a track that perfectly melds the "sick of the typical life and all its trappings" ethos of classic Blur with a catchy beat, and notes that evoke the feeling the lyrics convey better than nearly anything else on the disc. The closing triplet of the gut-wrenching "To Binge" that segues into "Cloud of Unknowing" and the bouncy happy-yet-apathetic-yet-not "Pirate Jet" brings this dystopian fantasy-music journey to a beautiful close.

Albarn and co. are clearly going for a satire of the world as it is today here, and they pull it off with refreshing vigor. Not surprising, as Blur mined this same territory with the 1994 track "Tracy Jacks" which tells the story of a young civil-service employed brit who is rebelling against all of modern life that is "just so over-rated" - that same ethos fuels Plastic Beach - a rail against all the artificial constructs of the world today that just suck the soul out of life in general - and beneath all this blah, still a sense that there IS a way to rise above it all.

No, this album is not 100% perfect - a few of the tracks stumble off the beaten path of this commentary on world society as it exists today - or are just plain dull (see "Sweepstakes") but a few off tracks can't spoil this one. So do your ears a favor and give them a tan at the plastic beach. You won't be sorry you did.

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