Among all the hype and memes surrounding Gorillaz 2010 third album, Damon Albarn collects an impressive roster of stars and musical legends not only to myself, but to the world of music. Whether or not this would pay off is left to the production team and idea factory which lives inside Albarn's head. Gorillaz are the essential 'band' from the 00's, for my generation that is. Many of my friends including myself were given Gorillaz debut self titled album back in late 2001 for Christmas. 10 years on and I still find fun in listening to Gorillaz.
March saw the release of Plastic Beach, with no pre release leak surprisingly. As track listing was released and guests were named, the worldwide attention and acclaim was looking forward on that special first listen. The listener is greeted with an orchestral instrumental reminiscent of a Disney movie with a beach in the background surrounded by clouds. Horns begins the official start to the album, with a light synthesized beat, high bass and a relatively sparse instrumental, not forgetting Snoop Dogg spitting a pathetic vocal. It's not exactly a great open to an album, having Snoop Dogg read out lyrics imagining him in his fur coat, staff and sunglasses with his hair braided in the studio, 'Welcome To The World of The Plastic Beach'.
Grime artists Kano and Bashy team up for the tribal, electronic track 'White Flag', which is one of the early favourites, with a great orchestral introduction and elevated violin work met with Bashy giving a very strong vocal, introducing better imagery and story telling than Snoop's previous effort. Kano then delivers his verse, which has less imagery but a stronger sound with the instrumental. Both Kano and Bashy were suffering from flu during the recording, but the outcome was surprisingly strong. It allows Damon Albarn to make his eventual appearance on 'Rhinestone Eyes', the melodic, synthesized single. It was created using the demo 'Electric Shock' and adding several synthesizers, taking out the hard hitting beat and replacing it with a quieter, softer beat. I don't actually like this track, I find the structure a little forward for my liking, with that synth line which runs through the track mixing with Damon's vocals.. It doesn't suit well in my opinion, at least he used effects to disguise his vocal which would sound terrible over these synths.
Soul legend Bobby Womack makes an appearance on the pre release single 'Stylo', this is after a short, quiet rap given greatly by Mos Def. Damon's then repeated vocals make way for his verse. Womack gives a powerful vocal over the electronic, drug worthy beat. It's a strong instrumental with the programmed drum beat sounding fresh rather than the dated demo of Stylo. As much as I'd like to enjoy this song, I just feel it doesn't have much going for it other than it's stylistic beat and guest contributors. It has a synthesizer playing towards the end of the song, but other than this, nothing is happening.
Some tracks begin to excite me, such as 'Superfast Jellyfish' and 'Empite Ants'. The later being a sweet, easy going track with the instrumental and vocal of nighttime. It features downtempo artist Yukimi Nagano singing the loud, abrasive ending to the song. Damon gives his vocal with ease with the relaxed beat, before sythesizers and a harder, faster beat takes hold with Yukimi's soft vocals, it created that dark atmosphere which they intended to create. The previous track 'Superfast Jellyfish' features the Hip-Hop De La Soul. Even at an older age they still manage to slurp out a decent vocal reminiscent of those 3 feet High And Rising days. Gruff Rhys, the lead member of Super Furry Animals, delivers the chorus which is very characteristic and has great effects added to his voice to create that bright, happy feeling.
Mark E Smith features on 'Glitter Freeze', giving his ultimate best... His time. He doesn't exactly break a sweat, he just gives his charcter and instantly recognisable voice. The track features a great bass synth, with a strong, melodic string synth which runs directly through the track with the higher pitched synth. It begins the second half of the album with even more guest stars, which prooves instantly with Lou Reed lending his voice for following track 'Some Kind of Nature'. This track has a distinctive piano riff and a repetitive electronic beat which just gets annoying once you've heard it once. It cant take that long to develop this kind of beat, which asks questions, but then again much of the time spent on this album has been research and phone calls securing these guests. Lou'd aged vocals don't add much spirit on the album and this track is just one of those which passes without any memory that it just passed, instantly forgettable.
The mellow synthesized sounds used for 'On Melancholy Hill' are beautiful. That's hard for me to say seeing as most of the synthesizers used on Plastic Beach are very basic and repetitive, but here we find some great instrumentation and song progression, something which this album is lacking. At the other end of the scale, 'Broken' is among the worst tracks on the album. With a terrible, clean vocal and a repetitive cringe worthy synthesizer starting and stopping throughout. It's over before you know it and thank god it doesn't last longer than four minutes or we would have some serious hating on our hands.
'Sweepstakes' has great instrumentation which is both repetitive and brilliant, mainly due to Mos Def giving a clear rap with amazing effect. I just forget about Damon Albarn. The Clash members Mick Jones and Paul Simonon feature on the title track, with heavily edited soundscapes and arpeggio organ synth riffs. Damon enjoys every moment singing along side the legendary Punk duo who are hardly heard. Yukimi features once again on the twinkly song 'To Binge', with Damon giving a strong, clean vocal. His voice sounding aged for the first time here, seeing as he has added many effects to some of his earlier vocals. It's an all round solid track with a simple, melodic beat and great bass work.
The final two songs are both strong, with Bobby Womack singing on 'Cloud of Unknowing' over a sweet, orchestral piece given by the Sinfonia ViVA orchestra. 'Pirate Jet' actually features one of the best beats and synth lines. The repeated vocal intro of the tracks name sounds like a country western film with a Jew Harp being used. The actual vocal is a repeated verse given by Albarn. It's the shortest song on the album and includes a well deserved fade out.
This album uses synthesizers more than the previous two Gorillaz albums, I think this is a step backward because I love the gritty instrumentation and heavy bass beats on Demon Days. This album had hype backing it, but it didn't break records or reach much acclaim. This is down to many factors, I think we can safely say that the guest artist idea is good, but doesn't work if the guests are not involved fully. Having members of The Clash perform on your album is great, but why? What's the point?. Lou Reed, Mark E. Smith.. Why? I know Gorillaz is more of a concept artistic creation and they use guests as a way of telling the story, but these guests don't do that. They're not fulfilling the role given to them by Albarn and he's to blame for this cluster fuck of guest mimicry. I think the Little Dragon collaborations worked, so did the Kano/Bashy song, but some of these guests just don't cut it for me. De La Soul did great on previous Gorillaz material, but here it's a little forced. That's just me, if I had my way this album would have been extremely raw and experimental, less refined. Instead we have a complex, synthesized piece of collaborations all pieced together by a decent production team, I'm not impressed.