In 1985, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Quincy Jones and a congregation of almost 50 pop and rock superstars combined to form “USA for America.” The resulting superhuman recording effort was “We Are the World,” with the proceeds going towards hunger relief in Africa.
If you strip away the purpose, star power and name recognition of the artists involved in that project, the third album from virtual band Gorillaz, Plastic Beach, is almost the exact same thing.
A veritable slew of guests help define the record, including The Artist Formerly Known as Snoop Dogg, Bobby Womack, Mos Def, De La Soul, Yukimi Nagano and the rest of Little Dragon, Mick Jones of The Clash, and the incomparable Lou Reed.
Though Gorillaz is normally helmed by Damon Albarn (of Blur fame), I think Plastic Beach is something of his gift back to the music community for their loyalty to his projects over the last few decades.
Largely conceptual in nature, Plastic Beach plays out like the soundtrack to a sprawling Broadway play or mini-series. Because of its varied styles, ranging from pop to electronica to experimental industrial, and yes, even hip-hop, there is something for nearly everyone here – similar to their eponymous debut.
The album opens with an orchestral score, which effectively spells out everything you need to know. How else could a record this grand in scope begin?
Rappers Snoop Dogg Lion, Mos Def, and Kano provide a gritty backdrop to the urban, industrial narrative of the record, which gets right at the heart of consumerism and the current treatment of our planet.
The fact that Mighty Mos and Bobby Womack appear on the same track (“Stylo”) must have been some kind of street dream for Albarn, because the mash-up of old school and new school is tremendous.
Elsewhere, Yukimi Nagano’s voice positively drips with sensuality on “Empire Ants.” It’s refreshing to hear a female vocalist on a Gorillaz track, especially one that is electric drum-heavy and upbeat.
Plastic Beach is massive at 16 tracks (both in scope and stature), but finds most of its more experimental and positive moments on the backend. There’s flashes of cheesy here and there, but that has more to do with the guests than with the original Gorillaz themselves; see “White Flag.”
This record is worth a listen if you haven’t ever given the band a chance past “Clint Eastwood” or if you’re looking for an extensive collective of artists brought together at the top of their respective games.
From Plastic Beach, this is one of its singles, and my favorite track, “Stylo” –
Standout tracks: “Cloud of Unknowing,” “Broken” and “Rhinestone Eyes” – and if you cop the deluxe edition, check out “Three Hearts, Seven Seas, Twelve Moons,” which is like the music piping through Walt Disney’s Kingdom.
Weakest track: “White Flag” or “Sweepstakes”
RIYL: Beastie Boys, Daft Punk, Massive Attack, Black Star. This album runs the gamut of comparisons.
There are 3 gorgeous covers for this album: day, twilight, and night. Check them out in the gallery: