Plastic Beach


EMI, 2010

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


In 1996, a trailer came out hyping Tim Burton's satiric take on z-grade martian invasion films. The movie was Mars Attacks and just coming off his triumphant Ed Wood, movie fans had reason for excitement. Then, the cast was announced. Pierce Brosnan, Annette Benning, Pam Grier, Micahel J Fox. Then it started getting good. Danny DeVito, Glenn Close. Holy shit! Then, the cappers: Tom Jones, as well as Jack Nicholson playing the president! One of the worst jinxes you can put on a movie is say "with a cast like that, how could it NOT be awesome?!" But in the case of Mars Attacks, you couldn't help but say just exactly that. 

The result? Well, the movie wasn't an abject failure, but even the most vocal of Burton supporters couldn't help but think how much better the film should have been, given that wealth of talent.

The same could be said of Gorillaz. The band has a way of amassing a ton of great talent for their albums. And at the first listen, the results are underwhelming. Take Demon Days. The album featured a mad grab bag of talent, from the relevant (Martina Topley-Bird, Neneh Cherry, De La Soul, London Community Gospel Choir) to a "what the hell?" addition of Dennis Hopper and Ike Turner. At first listen, Demon Days was a generous C+ type of album. But Damon Albarn managed to leave a few nuggets to get people to give the album a second listen. And a third. And a seventh…

The same setup faces Plastic Beach, Gorillaz's latest album. Like my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Demon Days, the album boasts a ton of great guest talent, some returning (De La Soul) and plenty of new additions (Lou Reed, Mick Jones, Snoop Dogg, Bobby Womack and Mos Def for starters). The album has also earned a ton of good graces thanks to Demon Days. Those who warmed up to Demon Days now know not to judge Plastic Beach on a first or even second listen

Like Demon Days, Plastic Beach is an extremely loosely-based concept album. While Demon Days addressed a world teetering on apocalypse, Plastic Beach takes more of an environmentalist theme. The disposable (plastic, breakfast food) get heavy mention in more of a resigned "this is the world we live in" tone and less of a condemning one.

For about half of Plastic Beach, Gorillaz gets it right. "White Flag," "Rhinestone Eyes" and "Empire Ants," sound like an album that fits perfectly in these times, maybe a year or two ahead of its time, but not so far out of reach in terms of accessibility. If Gorillaz only released "Stylo," it would have justified their existence as a band. A simple, pulsating beat is laid down, infectious, but not obscuring Bobby Womack's cool delivery, which fits in perfectly with Mos Def's muffled staccato rap. It's modern pop in the finest degree.

If only Plastic Beach could have kept the momentum of the first half (or at least turned itself into an amazing EP). After Lou Reed's unmistakable presence on "Some Kind Of Nature" (a song that, while good, should have been so much better given the collaboration), the songs start to lose their shape and that exposes some flimsy lyrics ("My heart is in economy / due to this autonomy" is a particularly ugly offense). Even album M.V.P. Mos Def can't rescue "Sweepstakes" as his voice gets lost in some seriously annoying horns and cymbals at the end.

It would be different if the last half of the album were like Demon Days, in the sense that there would be some material that would draw a listener back for a second listen. Instead, a listener will probably wind up forcing themselves into another listen, trying to convince themselves there must be something they didn't "get" in the first listen. While asking for effort from an audience is certainly not a bad thing, not giving them much to come back to is never a good sign for an album. While Plastic Beach is the product of a band clearly embracing today's technology, Gorillaz played one of the oldest tricks in the recording business: put your strongest stuff at the beginning and fill up side two with the rest.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2010 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of EMI, and is used for informational purposes only.