Gorillaz is a band that has become known for delivering the unexpected and mapping out the uncharted. The third album from the Damon Albarn/Jamie Hewlett brainchild, Plastic Beach, has its moments, but does not really live up to the expectations that have no doubt been amassing in the five years since their sophomore album, Demon Days.
The album opens with the bluntly titled "Orchestral Intro," a one minute opera-like symphony without words that misleads the listener into thinking this could be the tone for the rest of the beach-themed narrative. But no, the neo-operatic sounds of 2D, Noodle, Russel, and Murdoc are quickly counteracted by the bass line of track two, "Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach," which is rich with the under appreciated baritone sound of Snoop Dogg's lush voice. And yes, I realize I've described Snoop Dogg's vocal stylings with the same reverence usually given to Pavarotti, but you have to admit Snoop has the same croonishly soothing voice of a howling bloodhound. The album then takes a swift turn for the worst on track three, "White Flag," a conglomeration of sounds that really shouldn't even have made the cut. Yes Damon, you like non-white influences, you've renounced your faith in Britpop, we get it. That don't mean you gotta punish us with "White Flag."
"Rhinestone Eyes" has some of the album's more standout lyrics, but without the accompanying beats to make it a favorite, a gross oversight when you've got poetic verses like: "Your rhinestone eyes are like factories far away/Where the paralytic dreams that we all seem to keep/Drive on engines till they weep." Following "Rhinestone Eyes" is the anthemic "Stylo," the video of which is vaguely reminiscent of "Scar Tissue" by Red Hot Chili Peppers and includes a reaction to the sound of a police siren that I'm sure we all wish we could carry out. As for the Bruce Willis cameo, all I can say is, if it's not Christopher Walken, don't even bother with the presence of a celeb.
The tracks that come after "Stylo" and before "On Melancholy Hill" are, to put it as euphemistically as possible, something you could find on an album being distributed (a.k.a. thrust into your face with malice and overtones of resentment) by the various aspiring hip hop artists begging for money outside of Mann's Chinese Theater. However, if you can make it though that interim period to "On Melancholy Hill," it is well worth the wait. The song is among Gorillaz's best work and far overshadows the anticlimactic "Plastic Beach" featuring Lou Reed that precedes it.
"Broken" is also another track of high interest, the common denominator (excuse the math analogy, I can't fucking stand it when people use them, but it was necessary in this case) on this, one of the precious few songs that can be deemed "brilliant," being that Albarn's vocals are prevalent. And I suppose that leads me to my primary conclusion about Plastic Beach: More Damon, less B-rate rap suffusions (Snoop and Mos Def excluded).