01 March 2010

Gorillaz 'Plastic Beach' (Track by Track Review)

brits: you can listen to the full album here.
yankees: you can listen to the full album here.

I'm in
America, so I tuned in via the NPR link. I wrote while I listened and here's what happened. A track by track review of the third Gorillaz full length 'Plastic Beach'

((((((1)))))) & ((((((2))))))

We begin with a fitting Orchestral Intro that seamlessly leads to the jump off track Welcome to the World of Plastic Beach, featuring Snoop dog, a clickly little vocoder piece. The sped up funk, treble heavy with Miami Vice style synth swells, says neither Dan the Automator nor danger mouse, this is the newness from the Gorillaz.


Next up is White Flag, the intro of which is used on all those little plastic beach vignettes that appeared on the Gorillaz home page a month back. This track puts you in the middle of a video game, and really conveys the vibe of those first few Gorillaz tracks, where the 4th wall was still firmly in place, and it was almost believable that a group of cartoons wrote an album. Then Kano comes on the mic, and shatters the video game vibe for a couple verses alongside a type writer high hat, and marching style snare, it feels more like a Kano track than Gorillaz, a bit more like the second album now, where tracks seriously flipped the style on verse and chorus.


Rhinestone Eyes comes on with Damon Albarn (aka 2d) ridding high-a-top a simple slow beat. Damon sings about the plastic beach, and already four tracks in, this album is mild cohesive. When some high-faluting synths and a background chat come through, it feels like a drunk Albarn singing karaoke to his favorite eighties jam.


is next, and it's the single for obvious reasons. It's supper dancy, with a synth hook that repeats through out the lofty Albarn vocals, into the disappointingly short contribution from Mos Def near the end, Womack definitely kills it though, making Stylo one of the stand out tracks.


Stylo is followed by a little commercial and a big breakbeat rhymed by Gruff Rhys and de la soul. The track, Superfast Jellyfish, has the famed Gorrillaz swagger dancing with the tongue in cheek humor that really defines the project. Remarkably, while sounding the most Gorillaz of the tracks so fall, it's also a little different than anything I’ve heard from them, and also the least 80's sounding.


Empire Ants
is next and is the first track featuring not a vocalist, but a band! And not just any band, but one of the best new bands: Little Dragon. The song is sweet and lovely, even though as they sing, 'the world is falling down.' If I close my eyes, I’m floating on a cloud listening to this pretty little melody as I float along. Unfortunately, it doesn't really showcase the amazingness that is little dragon, and half way through, sounds more like a Ryoksopp song than Gorillaz or Little Dragon, but then Yukimi Nagano voice comes through and melts my face, she is amazing. And now I know what it sounds like when the new kids (Little Dragon) get the rock star production treatment.


Glitter Freeze
(Gorillaz homage to dubstep) has that sick wobbly, the crunchy clap and sci-fi synths that have taken over the electronic world. But you can't escape that Gorillaz funk any more than you can escape plastic beach's proclivity for gigantic breakdown and massive builds.


One final synth stab drops us into Some Kind of Nature ft. Lou Reed. Lou sort of talks his way through the track, as he does. The drum beat is simple and straight forward. This track is kind of amazing. Albarns experience with the Good the Bad and the Queen really shines through. He's got a knack for making these older recording artists sound really modern and contemporary.


On Melancholy Hill
starts out sounding like a rather weak daft punk track, and then gets a bit emo. Perhaps the most blur sounding so far, with the synths swells and thick English accent the song could just as easily have been recorded by Supergrass. Much more new wave than the bands previous hip hop core, I can imagine girls with massive eyeliner crying in their beds listening to this track right after they caught their teenage boyfriends kissing another girl. I might have left it off the album.


A half assed apology come in the way of Broken (at least beat wise). A track that puts Albarn on top of a Dr Dre style track. I'm curious why they didn't try and put snoop on this one, where he would have been quite at home. Instead Albarn kind of whines his way through, with vocals way up in the track, which seams fairly consistent through out, the quest vocals are buried in the instrument, but Albarn is perched high on top.


Mos Def has a real opportunity to do his thing on Sweepstakes, as he sort of falls through the track, which is actually sort of a difficult rhythmically, and kudos to Mos Def for rockin' it. It's a cool little track and one of my favorites on the album.


, the title track, has the whinny Albarn perfectly placed with an arpeggiating keyboard, a quick clicky beat and a healthy layer of electronic quirkiness. That goofy synth is talking to me, telling the story of Plastic Beach in a delightfully unknown computer language.


Little Dragon are no quite as effective on their second appearance To Binge. Albarn and Nagano duet, and again Nagano is mixed way lower than Albarn. Also the track, while quintessentially Gorillaz, just isn't big enough for the talent of Nagano. For Albarn's third Gorillaz project, it's one of the most successful in terms of the projects aesthetics, sound and color, but I can't help being a bit blue balled as the song basically sounds like an extended intermission. There's very little departure from the beat or melody, a little bit of a build, but rather a sleepy track in general.


Cloud to Unknowing
brings back bobby, but flips the style crazy like. This is the only really effective slowish track on the album, it sounds neither Gorillaz or plastic beach, and yet fits perfectly in the record where other tracks fail to support the concept and groove. There's no beat, no hook, just some strings drenched like a London downpour.


And finally Private Jet, the little banger that almost could. A fat beat under some tasty synth stabage, Albarn nailing a perfect cadence, reminiscent of other really successful Gorillaz track. The synth lead is a bit hot, and sort of detracts from the stellar groove. The track slowly rolls along, somewhat haunting, a little silly, and in my opinion far to short, but I guess that’s the idea of a closings track, you have to leave the listener wanting more.

Overall impression: After only one listen, it's not my favorite of the three Gorillaz records, but plastic beach is a good record non-the-less, and fans of the band will not be disappointed. Below is my bootleg remix of Stylo. Enjoy.

note: the spell check in Google chrome is a piece of shit. also, the album preview is the best thing to come to the net since illegally downloads.

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