Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Gorillaz, Plastic Beach (2010)

Sometimes, I suppose it could be argued, this blog veers a little towards the negative-critical. So let me buck my own trend and say that the new Gorillaz album is very very good indeed. If it doesn't quite achieve the extraordinary transcendental lift-off of the last quarter of 2005's Demon Days, it is nevertheless a fantastically sustained, cat's-cradle of rhythms, tones and musical colours. Albarn has said some things about 'plastic' and 'beaches' that relate to the record:
"I suppose what I've done with this Gorillaz record is I've tried to connect pop sensibility with ... trying to make people understand the essential melancholy of buying a ready made meal in loads of plastic packaging. People who watch X Factor might have some emotional connection to these things, this detritus that accompanies what seems to be the most important thing in people's eyes, the celebrity voyeurism." The first time Albarn went to Mali, he was taken to a landfill where he saw people "taking every little bit, a little bit of fabric to the fabric regenerators, or the metal and the cans to the ironsmiths and the aluminium recyclers, and it goes on and by the time you get to the road, they're selling stuff." When Albarn went to a landfill outside of London to record the sound of seagulls for the album, he noticed a juxtaposition between the way the two countries dealt with rubbish. "They've got more snakes... like adders, grass snakes, slow worms, toads, frogs, newts, all kinds of rodents, all kinds of squirrels, a massive amount of squirrels, a massive amount of foxes, and obviously, seagulls. [...] This is part of the new ecology. And for the first time I saw the world in a new way. I've always felt, I'm trying to get across on this new record, the idea that plastic, we see it as being against nature but it's come out of nature. We didn't create plastic, nature created plastic. And just seeing the snakes like living in the warmth of decomposing plastic bags. They like it. It was a strange kind of optimism that I felt... but trying to get that into pop music is a challenge, anyway. But important."
The thing is that Albarn properly understands the plasticity (in several senses) of pop as a medium, and has a sort of genius for creating exactly the right balance between the disposable and the unbiodegradable, the colourful and the toxic, the waste-heap and the living ecology.

A few other thoughts, in no special order. One is that the Beatles originally wanted to release Rubber Soul under the title Plastic Soul but the name was already taken. Not that Rubber Soul is an especially plastic album ... but this new Gorillaz suite is, and properly merits the Beatlesian moniker. Another thought is how much I like the way, after a noodly prelude piece, the opening track begins with a morphed version of the old LWT trumpet theme. Another is that Snoop Dogg has a very pleasant timbre to his voice. 'Stylo' is nice, but a little one note (depending, that is to say, perhaps a touch too much on the expression tension between Albarn's weary half-sung portion and Womack's lung-bursty yodelling). 'White Flag' is gorgeous, perfectly balanced between abrasive and filligree. I also liked the north-pole icefield electro-chunter of 'Glitter Freeze', guest-starring Mark E Smith. Maaahk-E Smuth. Though his contribution is limited to a couple of phrases. But best of all is 'Superfast Jellyfish', which is all the album's virtues in one goofy gemlike track, and which is my single favourite song of the year so far. This one song makes clear the one thing that Blur always had that Oasis (say) never did: not just that Albarn is a much cleverer, cannier songwriter, who brings a much broader range of influences to bear, though all that is true ... but that he has a sense of fucking humour, something lacking in too much contemporary music. Good stuff, from top to bottom.

4 comments:

Al R said...

Worth it for Glitter Freeze alone...

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