Damon Albarn and his Gorillaz returned with “Plastic Beach” Tuesday with an alluring and intoxicating assimilation of various genres.
“Plastic Beach” is a world where waste products and plastics are turned into new toys. The plan here is to salvage from different musical styles such as hip-hop and Arabic music.
The music is as eclectic as the collaborations, which include rapper, Mos Def, and rock legend, Lou Reed. Gorillaz have been a rotating set of musicians, but Albarn has always been in control, enforcing his vision.
“White Flag” is a prime example of the musical combinations. The Lebanese Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music accompanies low-key British rappers Kano and Bushy creating an exotic blend of dub and Arabian strings.
The electric pop of “Stylo” is hypnotizing with its disco style beat and atmospheric synthesizers. Mos Def’s mellow delivery compliments old-school soul singer, Bobby Womack’s dramatic belting.
“Superfast Jellyfish,” with the help of Gruff Rhys and De La Soul, is the most animated tune on the album. De La Soul is as funky as he was on “Feel Good, Inc.” and Rhys sings lines like, “the sea is radioactive,” in a fun, robotic voice.
“Empire Ants,” which features Little Dragon, might be the best song on the album. Albarn takes the microphone and sings softly over an acoustic guitar and a shimmering piano. When Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano starts singing, the music swirls into a spacey ballad with haunting synthesizers and a soothing rhythm.
But, there are a few things that make “Plastic Beach” an imperfect record.
This is Albarn’s first time as the producer of a Gorillaz album, and without Dan “The Automator” Nakamura or Danger Mouse there to condense the music, the album does seem to stretch a bit. It also lacks the pop brilliance of songs like “Clint Eastwood” and “Dare.”
“Demon Days” was a goliath of a record, with huge commercial and critical success, and expectations for the next album were tremendous.
Still, “Plastic Beach” is an excellent record, and Albarn continues to stretch his musical horizons creating some of the most infectious and original music of the 2000s.