While driving around with some buddies looking at Christmas lights a few nights ago, a friend tossed on the new Gorillaz album, Plastic Beach. I had only heard a couple of tracks off the release previously, and basically carried the same careless attitude towards the group that I have since "Clint Eastwood" in middle school. I was never a fan of the moody industrial pop/hip-hop combo in the past and didn't think I could get excited about them anymore. However, to my surprise it all changed during that car drive, once I really gave the album a full listen.
I picked up on the eco-friendly concept for the album immediately, and I'm always excited when pop culture can successfully include social issues. The beginning of the album is overall a bit incoherent and could do without the "Orchestral Intro" and "White Flag" tracks, but Snoop Dog's prophetic opening line, "The revolution will be televised" and the fantastic hooks on "Rhinestone Eyes" throw the album into motion. Damon Albarn, sole master behind this album, first shows his voice on this latter track, with his usual uneasy yet soothing voice. The disc roles on strong from this point on with mind blowing production on tracks like "Stylo", "Empire Ants", and "Glitter Freeze". De La Soul has a killer guest spot on "Superfast Jellyfish", which fits in perfectly with the theme, and "Some Kind of Nature" features Lou Reed on a seemingly stupid melody that somehow works perfectly. "On Melancholy Hill" is the clear, catchiest single on the album, with synth pop hooks that only Ratatat can match. The album fizzles out a bit with filler after this track, with several mere average tracks, but then picks up big time with closing tracks, "To Binge" and "Pirate Jet".
It is quite simply one of the greatest, coherent pop albums I have heard in a long time, as surprising as I am to feel that way about the Gorillaz. They are able to pull off a coherent, emotional, and politically charged concept album without coming off silly or overproduced, which seems nearly impossible in today's pop music. Damon Albarn has come a long way in his production, creating atmospheric delights that were never seen on his first two releases. He creates an artificial world of synth and droning beats that can become a total paradise, just as the title and theme of the album so bluntly describe our worldview as. I was a little sad to have only discovered this fine 2010 album at the very last week of the year, but I'm equally glad to bring this one into the new year with a lot of excitement and fiendishly frequent plays.