Gorillaz - 'Plastic Beach'
My first reaction to this album was to be wowed by its stellar line up. Then I remembered a quote by Mark E Smith, who features himself on 'Plastic Beach', about the Sven-era England team:
“A team of superstars is like a supergroup. It's like picking the best guitarist in Britain, the best drummer and the best singer, and expecting them to produce something that isn't prog-rock mush.”
And with the list of collaborators, and the whole cartoon character charade surrounding it all, you could in normal circumstances be forgiven for fearing this album would end up a load of self-indulgent nonsense.
Of course nothing surrounding Gorillaz could be described as "normal", and besides, they’ve made it work before. 'Plastic Beach' is indeed ambitious: not only does it open with a grand orchestral intro, but the first song also starts with a minute of instrumental opulence from the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.
But when an album is as finely crafted as this, you think, why not go over the top? You realise the whole cartoon character business is just escapism, removing the band from the any mundane worries about "authenticity" that might plague other bands – 2D, Murdoc and the rest of the band don’t need to worry about fans or press or blogs. The dedicated and complete immersion of all involved into this alternative world mean that you too can let yourself go, and simply enjoy the record for what it is.
Albarn knows what he’s doing - the songs are well written, almost under-written it seems at times - some tracks seem on first listen to be almost structure-less, only for further plays to reveal hidden layers and depth. Gorillaz make excellent use of the guests – they never seem superfluous - with Bobby Womack (as on 'Stylo' and 'Cloud Of Unknowing') and Lou Reed’s ('Some Kind Of Nature') contributions particularly impressing. And despite the presence of luscious strings, laser-like synths and monstrous beats, there are moments, particularly on the tracks without guests, when this album actually becomes understated.
'Plastic Beach' isn’t perfect. At sixteen tracks it could perhaps be trimmed a little, and it’s lacking in much emotional depth – which is perhaps inconsequential, this being pop album after all - but it does mean that 'Plastic Beach' never quite took my breath away. But it is nonetheless a mightily impressive achievement, and more importantly, a great deal of fun to listen to.
'Plastic Beach' is out now. Stream/buy at we7.