Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Gorillaz aren't the first to make "world music" of no fixed cultural abode (Elsewhere has noted 1 Giant Leap and the Laya Project among others) -- but there is something so diverse yet coherent, musically ambitious yet delivered with a pop sensibility, and just so damn clever and enjoyable about Gorillaz that they stand apart from all other contenders.
Mainman and driving force Damon Albarn of Blur here dreams up an interesting concept with cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, that of an island made of the detritus of the world, notably plastic which has coagulated into an island which is now washed clean and standing high above the ocean.
But while some of the tracks address obliquely issues of recycling etc the message is done so subtly and subversively that it is hardly evident. To decipher that in greater detail it is worth getting the limited edition with the DVD of the making of the album which includes a lot of disconnected studio footage but also the making of the actual island (huge) in Shepperton Studios -- presumably to be used in videos etc.
But to the music: as mentioned this is musically-inclusive world music with a collision of celebrity contributors which includes (sometimes very briefly) Lou Reed, Snoop Dogg, Bobby Womack, Mos Def, the Fall's Mark E. Smith, the sublime vocals of Yukimi Nagano (of Little Dragon) alongside a classical orchestra, a cheap Casio organ, an ensemble of Arab musicians and the Clash's Paul Simonon and Mick Jones, De La Soul and Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals . . .
And yet you never get the sense that this is an overload of talent cluttering up the airwaves because the 16 tracks are all distinctive and self-contained.
So after the orchestral intro which suggests oceanic expanses in comes a brooding Snoop Dogg telling us the revolution will be televised (!) and welcoming us to the world of the Plastic Beach before we are whisked off to exotic climes by a flute and North African melodies which announces, somewhat improbably, more declamatory rap (by Bashy and Kano).
And so it goes, music that earns you frequent flier miles but an album which lacks that real killer punch of a lapel-grabbing song like Clint Eastwood off their self-titled debut.
Is that a problem? Not really, this is wide-screen, constantly morphing music and if some guests seem underutilised (Mark E Smith) then others (Reed in a lugubrious Lou cameo, Little Dragon elevating Empire Ants, Womack in soul holler mode) are worth the entry price.
De La Soul get away with the album's silliest song, and Albarn delivers a killer ballad in the world-weary Broken.
There are some weird sonic collisions here (Mos Def rap and raw Womack soul on the disco-driven Stylo, glam rock on Pirate Jet) and enough to get immersed in.
The CD/DVD also comes with an access number to get you more content online (a Gorillaz game and live showing among them).
So the music is but one aspect of this cartoon come to life -- although if the idea is to tell people there's too much plastic out there (literal and metaphorical) you'd hardly know it.