Plastic Beach by Gorillaz | CD review

The cartoon heroes' third and most impressive set is home to a large and motley crew

Creative lot, humans. We melt polar icecaps and replace them with longer-lasting, non-biodegradable plastic. Gorillaz's third and (allegedly) final album is named for a mass of flotsam swirling around the South Seas, the very opposite of Gauguin's sultry Eden.

As the site of a made-up cartoon ape band's secret fictional recording studio, it is nicely apposite, so let's humour them. Battered Casio keyboards wash up regularly, as well as brass bands (Chicago's talented Hypnotic Brass Ensemble). Given the recent pastimes of Gorillaz mainman Damon Albarn, you might have expected the odd kora, or some Chinese opera singers to land a raft. In the five years since Demon Days, Albarn and co-ape Jamie Hewlett have worked on Monkey: Journey to the West. Albarn's Africa Express has kept on motoring. There was that business last year with some Britpop-era outfit, Blur, too.

Albarn knows how to channel his disparate interests, however. Gorillaz surely bankrolls a great many of his other endeavours, and Plastic Beach is kitted accordingly. The most exotic sounds here come courtesy of the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music on the inventive "White Flag", featuring grime MCs Kano and Bashy

Plastic Beach isn't as obviously commercial an album as Demon Days, however. It lacks a killer hit, making do with the nicely insidious "Stylo". Its electronic pop songs are more sneaky than sure-fire. But from premise to execution, it is probably Gorillaz's most engrossing project so far, rolling from space-age electro to mournful soul and back again. "Where's north from here?" wonders Mark E Smith on the glam stomp of "Glitter Freeze".

Controversially – since neither of their previous producers Danger Mouse or Dan the Automator is involved– you could still call some of this album hip-hop. Snoop Dogg opens the tracklisting, providing an unintentional belly laugh. "I know it seems like the world is so hopeless," mutters the sybaritic west coast pimp roller. Mos Def and De La Soul provide back-up, the latter on the fine "Superfast Jellyfish", alongside Gruff Rhys. Even Albarn has a very unwise go at flow, on "Rhinestone Eyes".

The crush of talent gets a bit dense: Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, recording together for the first time since the Clash; Lou Reed, sounding positively perky on "Some Kind of Nature"; Bobby Womack. And at 16 tracks, Plastic Beach feels endless. But if we accept the line that Gorillaz are up for extinction, they leave us contemplating our own with loosened limbs.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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