Ok. I won’t lie. I was warned. Damon Albarn stated clearly that it’s the most pop record he’s ever made. Yes. Different music journalists quoted that statement. Yes. Somebody called it even a soundtrack to a cartoon. Yes. Yet, I decided to check the newest album of Gorillaz on my own. Mostly because I believe Albarn is one of the most interesting musicians in Great Britain. Also, cause I don’t trust newspapers and reviews until I try something on my own. Naaah, ok, let’s be honest – simply cause I like Gorillaz. And maybe I didn’t adore their previous albums, they didn’t change my life, my world, or whatever (no grand words, hush!) but they’re simply good, fresh and created by really good musicians, who, moreover, have a great sense of humor.
And I have to say that Plastic Beach is stunning. It’s not a record that will dominate all the other latest records. It’s not an album that I would consider a milestone in music, and, broader, in whole popular culture. But it’s amazing and it… kinda changed Gorillaz. At least my feeling is that this record, even though it’s more pop, is much more serious then the previous ones.
Musically you can feel the influence of the 1980’s in, for instance, Welcome to the World of Plastic Beach – especially early electro and synthpop, New Order, maybe a bit of Bowie or even Prince? This track is, by the way, featured by Snoop Dogg and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, so this information can give you the taste of what it is like.
Albarn is also known to be influenced by ethnic music, in this particular case Arabic, which is clearly the foundation for amazingly sweet White Flag – a delicate, pure track, featuring (among others) the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music – it starts from a definitely traditional Middle Eastern intro, however, when it becomes electro/hip-hop it’s still very frugal and therefore full of air and space. It’s like wind or spider web. Very consequently built, constructed on few, simple melodic lines and, perhaps therefore, bright and deeply touching.
Rhinestone Eyes reminds of the older songs of Gorillaz. It’s a little funky and a little gloomy, with a little bored voice of 2D (Albarn) and synthesizers.
Some of the songs are definitely highlights of this album. My favorite include Some Kind of Nature (featuring Lou Reed) and Plastic Beach (feat. Mick Jones). And it’s not because it includes legends of rock music. They’re just really good, professional tracks which intelligently mix the musical character and personality of both of these musicians with the style and moods so typical of Gorillaz.
What is, however, most interesting is that Gorillaz somehow lost their comedian touch. I listened to this record a couple of times, continuously and I couldn’t stop thinking of factories, plastic, chemistry and… ecology. Yes! Somehow I had a feeling this is a voice of a modern person. Totally lost in his/her world, being aware of the fact that our natural environment is being destroyed every single day. And, no, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Greenpeace fanatic. I don’t chain myself to trees or plot against scientists who make experiments on living animals. Nor is Plastic Beach moralist. It’s not a fairy tale for grownups. It’s not a fiery speech condemning the industry that pollutes the planet. The strength of this album is that all of the lyrics are pretty clear when it comes to meaning, however, they are still highly poetic. Metaphors and imagery that is presented in these songs have little to do with pro-ecology propaganda. It’s more like a sigh of sadness of a modern human being who eats artificial food out of a can, drinking artificial coffee, driving to work in a subway compartment with its anonymity and loneliness, and then sits in an office and performs work which is completely irrelevant, abstract and mechanical. It’s like a journey of a soulless man. Albarn is absolutely brilliant with this – his lyrics are not pushy, it’s more like a collage of different emotions and everyday observations. And therefore, even though musically this record is not genius (although very good), I think it’s one of the most interesting releases of this year, or even past few years. Different bands, different lyricists explore human mind and human life, many of them focus on the anxiety and obsessions of a contemporary human being. But, Mr. Albarn, I gotta give you this – something like this, so much connected with the reality of our lives, the reality that we easily forget about (cause it’s so much easier to notice pathology, crime, child abuse etc.), this has not happened yet. And in this sense I am not afraid to use a grand word – Damon Albarn is a poet of the ordinary. Which, by itself, I believe, is a very big compliment.