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Plastic Beach
Gorillaz Plastic Beach
Released 3 March 2010
Producer Gorillaz
Label Parlophone
Length 56:46
Genre Pop, trip hop, electropop
Website gorillaz.com

It is amusing now to think back on the Blur vs. Oasis furore, a media circus that was frankly beneath all of them, apart from possibly Liam. Damon Albarn, who seemed to be quite embarrassed by it all, went on to reinvent Blur, make music in Mali called Mali Music, form a nameless band who released an excellent album called The Good, The Bad and The Queen, write a Chinese opera called Monkey: Journey to the West and conceive of, create and write three albums worth of top notch music for a fictional cartoon band called Gorillaz, who just happen to excel in the three main genres of popular music, rock, hip-hop and dance (sorry country and western). I, for one, am impressed.

Plastic Beach, Gorillaz' third album, is probably their most accomplished effort yet. Songs like 'Stylo', 'Superfast' and 'Empire Ants' show an ease with genre hopping that is astonishing and importantly, feels uncontrived. Take 'Empire Ants' as a case in point. The first half of the song sounds like it could have been on Blur’s Think Tank before it morphs into dance music of the highest quality. It is Total Music, to borrow the football phrase. Interestingly, uber-cool producer of second album Demon Days, Danger Mouse has been dropped for Plastic Beach, leaving Gorillaz (read Albarn) to produce themselves, and the music has not suffered. It is fresh and funky with only a few editorial weaknesses on show, but more on that later.

The Gorillaz project has been intriguing for any number of reasons but one of the most interesting sub-plots is the guest artists. Demon Days’ 'Dare' featuring a Frankenstein-ish Shawn Ryder was one of the highlights of the last decade for me and Plastic Beach is also a treasure trove of guest artists and inspired juxtapositions. Simply put, the man has a talent for putting people together. If I were to be married, I would want him doing the seating arrangements.

Try the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music being joined by Inner city London grime artists Bashy and Kano for the excellent 'White Flag'. I’ll be honest, I didn’t see that one coming. I have no problem holding my hands up and saying that I had never heard of the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music (I know, I know, how can you be a reviewer if you haven’t heard of the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music), but I feel compelled to give the L.N.O.F.O.A.M some advice: You need to shorten your name guys. Come on. When it is quicker to copy and paste your name rather than type it, you know you’ve been a bit undisciplined with the old moniker.

Apart from the L.N.O.F.O.A.M, other stand out guests include Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano, Super Furry Animal’s Gruff Rhys, Mark E. Smith of the Fall, De La Soul, Snoop Doggy Dogg (who may or may not have thought this was a concept album about a porn star called Plastic Beatch) and Mos Def who features on two tracks, one an album highlight the aforementioned 'Stylo', the other easily the worst song on the album, a dirge called 'Sweepstakes'. A special mention though has to go to Bobby Womack who features on two tracks. In the ground breaking 'Stylo', his vocal provides the climax to what is a thrilling song. I’ll tell you, it will knock you off your chair. He also features on another track called 'Cloud of Unknowing' where he sounds like someone who is the last survivor of an apocalypse and has watched his whole family die. It’s great stuff. Well done Bobby.

It is not all positive however. Plastic Beach is around four songs too long, all of which are on the second half of the album. Sometimes I think artists should be reminded of Kraftwerk’s The Man Machine, six tracks, all of them perfect and I’ve never heard anyone complain that there aren’t enough songs on it.

Overall though, I am thrilled by this album. It is what pop should be; sophisticated, futuristic, seems to have been made by people beamed down from another planet. Damon Albarn, Renaissance Man and puppet master, is going through a golden age. Long may it continue.

- Eoin Murphy