Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Album Review: Gorillaz - Plastic Beach (2.5/5)

There's a lot happening on Plastic Beach, Gorillaz' third studio album. Unfortunately, it's not great pop songs. Experimentation yes, but nothing as appealing as "Feel Good Inc." or even a "Dare" to make it memorable. I've listened to this album several times in the last few weeks, and it's yet to sink in at all, save for first single "Stylo," which at first I didn't care for, but grew on me over time. Few other tracks have.

The "Orchestral Opening" is an interesting start--movie-like strings play over the coastal sounds of birds and surfs. Reminds me a bit of the TV show Lost actually, which is a good start. It segues into "Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach," an old school rap track featuring Snoop Dogg that struts its stuff over heavily distorted songs. "White Flag" opens with the unusual combination of bongs, flute and strings, giving it a classical-meets-tropical feel, which segues into its more synth-based hip-hop core. Like the beginning, but it loses me after that. "Rhinestone Eyes" has the same vocalist as "Feel Good Inc.," but little of its charm. It's old school strut could have been fun, if only the song had some tempo.

"Stylo" however, is a pretty decent song. I like the deep bass beat and the soulful vocal from Bobby Womack (best known these days for having been name-checked in Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together"). "Superfast Jellyfish," the album's second single after "Stylo," starts with a kitschy TV commercial before its laid-back sea-inspired rap. It's not bad--at least it has a good chorus. "Empire Ants" features Little Dragon (whoever that is). It's a quieter, mellower song, that has a great disco-fied middle section. How I wish more of this album sounded like this. "Glitter Freeze" has an appealing stomp, but little melody, and features a stranger announcer halfway through as the only vocal.

"Some Kind of Nature" features the characteristic vocal of Lou Reed and piano over its processed beats. It's okay, but synth-based "On Melancholy Hill" is much better, one of the few songs with enough tempo to move to, as well as a nice vocal and melody. In short, it's a real pop song, of which there is a major shortage here, despite the album stretching over 16 tracks. "Broken" is nondescript--middling beat, middling melody. "Sweepstakes" gives us some sharp electronic blurts, a bunch of horns and guys yelling "sweepstakes!" It's a real mess.

"Plastic Beach" starts with some likable western romanticism, but doesn't sustain that sound, devolving eventually into high-pitched, unintelligibly distorted vocals. "To Binge" is slower, plodding and not very interesting. The sea comes back for "Cloud of Unknowing," as does Bobby Womack, a rather gentle song, with an orchestral second half that hearkens back to the orchestral opening. "Pirate Jet" closes the album with some slinky synths and beats.

I loved the video that was released ahead of this album, showing the three-dimensional rendering of the island and house on the album's cover. Too bad the visual side of Gorillaz scored better than its musical side this time. I guess that's to be expected of a cartoon band.

Best: Stylo, Empire Ants, On Melancholy Hill

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