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Gorillaz - Plastic Beach

2010-04-12 08:35
Plastic Beach

Plastic Beach, the third album proper from Damon Albarn, and animator Jamie Hewlett (aka the real people behind those impish avatars the band has assumed) does kind of feel like a day at the beach. There is an unsettling lack of the angst, politicising or doom that marked Demon Days (2005), or they could just have found a way to better disguise it here.

What distinguishes Plastic Beach from their two previous album is a clear radio-friendly single, something in the league of "Clint Eastwood" or "19-2000" when the Gorillaz were still something of a novelty. The closest Plastic Beach gets to this is the sprightly "Superfast Jellyfish", an adorable nugget of a song ("crunchy, crunchy carrots!") that also features the odd vocal pairing between Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys and De La Soul. But then workable weird is what Gorillaz do best.

What becomes evident with each post-Blur release is that Albarn is a master of melody, conjuring otherworldly textures, moods and realities with the sparest of effort. There's an ethereal beauty to "Empire Ants", a collaboration with Swedish-Japanese electronic band Little Dragon, and Albarn sounds as sweetly haunted as a little boy who still believes there are monsters under his bed.

Lou Reed gets to scat over "Some Kind Of Nature", the jauntiest bit of pop he's probably ever encountered while sober. Mos Def gets two perfect reasons to not let his music career lie fallow on "Stylo" (with Bobby Womack) and the beguilingly trippy "Sweepstakes" with the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, who certainly live up to their name.

And it just goes on. Wistful 80s electronica ("On Melancholy Hill"), Snoop Dogg lording it over "Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach" like he just popped into the studio to say 'hi' on an album that delights, intrigues and bemuses with each listen. All told, it's an hour of some of the most extraordinary art dressed as pop music. That it soars on the strength of its collaborations, its fearless way with dissonance and delirium, and never fails to entertain is something of a marvel in an age where the artifice of pop as celebrity is threatening to swallow the whole world whole.

What makes a Gorillaz album really? This is a band that can so easily get away with anything – from playing behind screens during live shows to obscure who they really are (even though there was never any doubt about their identities), to roping in guest vocalists as diverse as Shaun Ryder, Roots Manuva, Martina Topley-Bird, Ibrahim Ferrer, over a cacophony of reggae beats, hip hop, Cuban rhythms, break beats, garage, dubstep, even house music – and often within the same song.

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