In spite of Gorillaz’ multi-platinum success, Damon Albarn’s conceptual cartoon-pop project has always seemed a little tossed-off—too sticky to shake, too laid-back to linger. The group’s third album, Plastic Beach, is still so crowded with guest appearances and samples that it’s hard to know who to credit for any given song’s essence, but where Gorillaz and Demon Days often got bogged down in idle experimentation, Plastic Beach feels more urgent and less fiddly. After an orchestral intro that would make The Moody Blues proud and a second intro featuring Snoop Dogg, Plastic Beach proceeds through a set of genre-mashing songs that project a future where cultural differences have been leveled and the synthetic has overwhelmed the organic. Albarn calls on veteran cranks like Lou Reed to deliver a few monotone rants, alongside contributions from the likes of De La Soul, Mick Jones, and Little Dragon. The result is an album that chops up Bollywood, space-age lounge music, stoner funk, and wistful music-hall ballads. Plastic Beach runs out of steam toward the end, but Gorillaz combine their myriad of voices better than they ever have, creating a mood that’s simultaneously nostalgic and ominous. The record is expansive enough to include the giddy commercial parody “Superfast Jellyfish” and the moody “Stylo”—the latter of which features Mos Def rapping, Bobby Womack wailing, and synthesizers that sounds like they’re scoring the last chase scene in the last movie ever made.
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