If we are able to be honest with ourselves, we can all admit that we knew that Gorillaz wasn’t supposed to last. I mean, who thought, after Del Tha Funkee Homosapien brought the funk on “Clint Eastwood”, or after the joys of hearing Damon Albarn and Cibo Matto’s Miho Hatori together, that this was a band that was going to go places? I was 10 when Gorillaz was released, and even as much as I knew in my young mind that Del’s mastery on “Clint Eastwood” would be the most flawless thing I’d ever hear, I thought, “it just can’t get better than this.” Because, it shouldn’t have. And then, five years ago, Demon Days came out, and all I could think was, oh shit. They topped it. But, after that, it settled in again, mostly because the shining brilliance of “Fire Coming Out Of A Monkey’s Head” and especially “November Has Come” was always overshadowed by “Feel Good, Inc.” and it became clear, again, that Damon Albarn was playing with fire here.
I don’t want to spoil the surprise, for those of you who haven’t heard the album yet, but I just have to… it was worth the five year wait. You hear me, naysayers? It was worth it. Plastic Beach is, for all intents and purposes, the album that we have all been goddamn waiting for all these years, even though I know that nobody, not even myself, thought they could do it again.
Plastic Beach is really something, though, honestly. It serves a little less as an album and a little more as a piece, much like recent Knife-starring Darwin-inspired opera Tomorrow, In A Year. On a whole, it feels like every song here is connected, and it’s sometimes, at least for me, hard to discern where everything is. All of the songs, if you truly pay attention, are their own songs, but Plastic Beach may be one of the first records I’ve listened to in a long time that felt good when it all blended together.
The blend is a good thing: it makes it less off-putting when the world’s most catchy flute line gives way to the tag team rapping of grime emcees Bashy and Kano on “White Flag”, of when the first voice you hear is that of Snoop Dogg welcoming you to the world of the plastic beach, and so on. Everything on Plastic Beach feels, for the lack of a better word, a little more cohesive than its’ predecessors.
Arguably, the best thing Albarn could have done was to make an album without a clear single. This time around, there are only a couple tracks that would truly appeal to the public at large, in the same way that “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good, Inc.” did before. “Superfast Jellyfish,” the overjoyed mock-jingle for a false cereal promoted by Super Furry Gruff Rhys and the return of “Feel Good” showstoppers De La Soul. Besides that, and the already single-ized “Stylo”, nothing here jumps out as the song that is going to hit the radio. This, in my opinion, helps push the band farther than they went on Demon Days. This gives way for the best songs on the album: the spitfire and maudlin “Rhinestone Eyes,” the song tied with best song on record, along with the solemn and suddenly explosive “Empire Ants,” which, after Albarn finishes his drawl, explodes into outer space disco the likes of which we haven’t seen since Lindstrom.
Plastic Beach serves as Albarn’s comment on permanence and the nature of that which is only temporary, which may signal the death of the cartoon side of the band. Would that be the worst thing in the world? Probably not, because in the trade, we have an almost entirely new sound for the band. The key things are still here: the always-flawless juxtaposition of Albarn’s drawl and the rapper of the hour laying out lines with less effort than should be legal, but something is missing, and though I don’t know what it is, I know the mix is almost better without it. Even the songs that do sound like classic Gorillaz, such as album closer “Pirate Jet,” sound more abrasive than they would have been five years ago.
So, where is north from ‘ere? I’m not quite sure anymore with this band, to be honest. After a few listens, though, I don’t know if it’s really necessary to know where it is, because whatever direction they’re going in, it’s worth following.