There is something strange going on in the alternative pop world. Everyone from the Flaming Lips to MGMT to Gorillaz are running away from the pop song construction and melody like they’re on fire. After two albums of club music you could actually listen to, Damon Albarn and Co. drink their own Cristal and come back with an album the leaves the listener with a pop-junk hangover, which I suppose is the point.
After a brief orchestral intro—yes, an orchestral intro—the Dogg Father welcomes one and all to the Plastic Beach. What the plastic beach is may be anyone’s guess and we’re betting Snoop Dogg didn’t bother to ask, lest he drop a blunt and ruin yet another pair of sneakers. “Yo man, your Jordan’s are FUCKED up!”
But I digress…much like this album.
[No, that’s too harsh, but it was such a good line I couldn’t leave it. Ok, it’s not that good but it’s kinda funny and cool, right? Oh great, now my thoughts are as scattered as this album…there I go again.]
Albarn definitely has an ear for a catchy chorus and this album has a few. There are also some tasty bits of techno and 80s synth that will keep happy the hipsters with rat tails and the puffy moms who dated guys with rat tails when the hipsters were but a glint in their middle management daddy’s eye.
Not satisfied to simply crank out product based on a tried and true template, Albarn must be given credit for his ability to draw from a wide palette of sounds to create some intriguing landscapes. “White Flag” is a prime example of Moroccan dancehall that tastes as sweet as an opium drenched date. It works.
With so many influences all fighting for attention it’s easy to fall victim of mish-mash and there are points in this album that veer on the absurd. There are also points that beg for a cultural realignment. Albarn is older than me so he likely remembers the 80s and should know better than to romanticize the fashion of that most distasteful decade, but again I have to give him credit for casting some clichéd soundscapes in new light.
It may be hard to determine from reading this review whether I like this album and that’s because I don’t know if I do. There are songs I like very much, including the songs already mentioned as well as lead single “Stylo” and especially “Superfast Jellyfish,” which features the genius pairing of Super Furry Animals‘ Gruff Rhys and De La Soul. It’s a perfectly absurd song that is also insanely catchy, which is what I think the Plastic Beach concept is all about. I’m just not sure the concept is fully baked and executed, so maybe that’s why I’m not sure if I like this album.
Of course, maybe I don’t have to like the album. Maybe Gorillaz is embracing the de-coupled, disposable nature of the modern day record industry and pop culture at large to put out a motley make up of disparate songs created by a band of cartoon characters. Am I so dense that I am just now getting the joke? It wouldn’t be the first time I was the last to the party.