Cracker Island


Parlophone, 2023

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Not only is Gorillaz an ongoing entity, their eighth album, released in early 2023, is as vibrant as ever, with as many big-name collaborators as ever.

The 10-song, 37-minute album whizzes by with guest spots from artists as varied as Bad Bunny, Tame Impala, Beck, Thundercat and even Stevie Nicks. This proves that fellow musicians are still attracted to Damon Albarn’s blend of electro-pop, hip-hop and melancholy, and even if it doesn’t break any new ground, it’s still a solid listen.

There’s a narrative in the lyrics, too, something about a cult (or two cults) on the island, with a thread of the effects of social media, but it doesn’t really hang together and is tangential to the music anyway. The truth is, unlike many past Gorillaz albums all the way back to the debut, there is no excess or “hey look at us!” moments. And let’s be honest: How many of us thought that Gorillaz would last more than one album, let alone rack up the sales figures, chart positions and influence that they’ve had? One could argue that Albarn saw the state of 2023 pop music way back in 2001, when his blend of collaborators, genre-bending and reliance on visuals seemed unusual.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Anyway. The opening title track is a disco blast of fun, with Thundercat’s bass weaving around Albarn’s vocals over a slippery beat. “Silent Running” is a lovely pop song, anchored by Adeleye Omotayo’s earthy vocals and a sort of ’80s-ballad sheen that’s been modernized. Nicks doesn’t have as much to do on the solid “Oil,” but her weary gypsy sound provides a necessary counterpoint to Albarn. And those who love the hip-hop aspect of Gorillaz will flock to “New Gold,” which fluctuates between rapped verses from Bootie Brown and sung lines from Tame Impala over an electro-dub beat, with all the vocals eventually snaking in and around each other as the synthesizers add texture. It’s quite a feat.

Albarn has always effectively separated Blur (his old alt-rock band) from Gorillaz, but hints of his songwriting for that band still come through on the downbeat melodies of “Baby Queen” and “The Tired Influencer,” which tend to be the weaker parts of the album. “Tarantula” also seems like a rehash of the better songs here, an outtake that someone considered a song, but it’s forgotten when Bad Bunny begins his Spanish-language vocal on “Tormenta.” Some have said that his appearance on a Gorillaz album seems incongruous—and this is, indeed, the only song here where the guest star dominates—but this is incorrect because a) Albarn has shown he’ll collaborate with just about anybody and b) Bad Bunny is a huge star right now who represents where pop music is at, so why not?

“Skinny Ape” goes nowhere (but in a fun way, I suppose), and then “Possession Island” closes the album on a low-key yet hopeful note, with Beck fading into the background under Albarn’s plaintive vocals: “Should I ask you for forgiveness / And open my heart / If I say these words will you listen / Or leave me here in the dark… We’re all in this together ‘til the end.” It may be a trite sentiment on which to end an album that goes everywhere and does everything, but it’s a reminder that despite the social media ills and the countries and genres that separate us and the cults we choose to belong to, we all want the same thing in the end, and it’s easy to lose sight of that.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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