Even though their eighth LP found this cartoon band decamping to California to work with producer Greg Kurstin, it’s hard not to speculate which benighted island the title of this record might refer to. As ever, much lore plays out in the band’s videos and Jamie Hewlett’s art. But it’s clear that a 2023 sense of unease powers this record, with Damon Albarn often in bittersweet mode, pondering how a deranged cult might take over a fragile society. Familiar, but inexhaustible, founts of anxiety abound: “Machine assisted, I disappear” Albarn croons affectingly on Silent Running.
This is, simultaneously, a very Albarn-forward, state-of-the-world Gorillaz record, and one packed with guests channelling different energies. More prominent west coasters figure: Afrofuturist funk bassist Thundercat, plus the indefatigable Stevie Nicks, whose guest vocal on Oil is less the “fairylike companion” of the lyrics than an excellent, bone-dry counterpoint to Albarn. Somehow, even reggaeton party-bringer Bad Bunny sounds nuanced on his song, Tormenta. Meanwhile, on the knockout New Gold, Pharcyde rapper Bootie Brown returns (alongside Tame Impala) for a delightfully old-school call-back. It all ends on a thoughtful thumbs up for the opposable-thumbed, with the pogo-friendly Skinny Ape investing hope in us scrawny simians.