It's hard to believe that it's been nearly five years since the last true Gorillaz album, Demon Days. I say true because the Demon Days b-side/remix album, D-Sides, was released in 2007. Point being, a lot has happened for Damon Albarn since the release of that album; there was the aforementioned remix album, The Good, The Bad & The Queen, the Chinese opera and album collaboration with Jamie Hewlett, Monkey: Journey to the West, and this past summer's reunion with Blur. So it should come as no surprise that Plastic Beach is unlike Demon Days and Gorillaz before it.
As is my normal way of reviewing albums, I'm going to dissect Plastic Beach track by track, shall we? The album opens with a short "Orchestral Intro," much like Demon Days, this is just here to set the mood, as is the following track "Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach," which features Snoop Dogg of all people. It's not that the track is bad, but Snoop's parts feel very unneeded, as the parts without him are quite nice and relaxing. The nautical mood continues in the opening to the next track, "White Flag," which features two British rappers Bashy and Kano, it's an alright track, and start to what is a lot of rap on this album.
The next track, "Rhinestone Eyes" is the first soley-Gorillaz track on the album (aka, no guests), and is probably the closest thing to the material on Demon Days, but overall it's a real nice, slow dance track. The electro-beats flow well into the album's first single, "Stylo," featuring Mos Def and legendary soul singer Bobby Womack. Makes sense for this to be the first single after hearing the album, it's got a nice touch of Plastic Beach's rap sound without there being too much, and it's got enough Damon Albarn to keep the fans happy.
Speaking of rap, it returns in the De La Soul heavy, and extremely fun track, "Superfast Jellyfish," and which a name like that, how could it not be fun? The next track, "Empire Ants," features Swedish electronic band, Little Dragon, and is honestly one of the most beautiful tracks Damon Albarn has ever sung on. I hadn't heard of Little Dragon prior to this track, but I'm definitely going to give them a listen after hearing this one.
Following up that wonder is the electronica track "Glitter Freeze," featuring The Fall's Mark E. Smith, which sounds more like something for a modern re-imagining of 1984 than something for the beach, but hey, what can you do? Speaking of older guest stars from once famous bands, The Velvet Underground's Lou Reed appears on the next track, "Some Kind of Nature," and is certainly one of my favorite tracks on the album. There's something about Reed's aging voice that clashes with Albarn's voice and yet some how fits the sound so damn well, a must hear.
The next track, "On Meloncholy Hill," is only the second non-guest track on the album, and just like the previous track is one of the best on the album; it's a little mainstream in its sound, but damn if it isn't catchy. After that is another soley-Gorillaz track, "Broken," which was actually one of the first demos leaked from the album, and is probably the only track here that has a hint of the band's sound from their 2000 self-titled album. The next track, "Sweepstakes," is definitely my least favorite track on the album, mainly in part to its dub sound and way too much of Mos Def repeating himself, and the fact that it's the longest track, at 5:20, makes it even more annoying.
And them comes the title track, "Plastic Beach," which features The Clash's Mick Jones and Paul Simmon, the latter of which previously performed with Damon Albarn on The Good, The Bad & The Queen. The track certainly retains the right to be the title track, and its probably the catchiest Gorillaz track since, "19-2000," and if I had to listen to it on infinite loop for a week I'd be pretty pleased with that. Little Dragon returns on the next track, "To Binge," which brings back the slide guitar sound that makes the Plastic Beach name so much more fitting, and like the earlier Little Dragon track, this one also has Damon at his best.
Now we come to the end of the album, with Bobby Womack returning for a more major part on the track, "Cloud of Unknowing". I don't really have much to say on it, but it's a nice track. The album closer, "Pirate Jet," is a nice ending track, it's quite upbeat for a closer, which makes the album a really nice listen on loop, because it never sounds like it's coming to an end.
Overall, I'd have to say Plastic Beach is my most favorite Gorillaz album yet. Why? Well, while I did enjoy both previous albums, they'd usually have 1/3 of the album filled with songs I couldn't listen to repeatedly. I've found that I actually really like all but one track on this 16 track album, and it didn't take 15 listens for them to grow on me like it usually would. This is also the first Gorillaz album that doesn't sound like it was written for a fictional band, it sounds like Damon Albarn just experimenting with a ton of different musicians, and it sounds damn good. Definitely check this one out.
Overall Score: 9.5/10