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Retro Reviews: Gorillaz / Plastic Beach

Parlophone Records / 2009

Robot Noodle / Murdoc Nichols of Gorillaz take a boat trip

really should have done this article two years ago for the 10th anniversary of this one, but 12 seems like an oddly auspicious number for the Gorillaz, the world’s best (only?) British cartoon hip-hop megastars.

For one thing, this album would have been perfect if it were about a dozen songs, as for me it always goes on 3 or 4 songs too long, and while I can’t really hate Moz Def’s contributions, I long for the days of the concise 12” vinyl classics that were, on the whole, around 1 song per inch of black vinyl… but that’s not to diss it.

You should really listen to this one, if only to play spot the guest-stars, who range from Snoop Dogg and De La Soul to half of The Clash on guitars and bass.

It’s crazy, really, how many of the collabs on this, Gorillaz third album, have disappeared off the scene or died since it came out (veterans Mark E. Smith, Bobby Womack and Lou Reed all passed away fairly soon afterward, making their contributions here all the more impactful, with Smith being the last to go in 2018). It’s like there was some kind of curse over the whole thing, or maybe they were all getting career advice from (Gorillaz bass player and renaissance man) Murdoc Nichols?

The band with Robot Noodle and original flavour Noodle

If anyone knows what this thing is, answers on a postcard.

For those of you who don’t know the lore, Murdoc almost killed (Gorillaz cartoon frontman) 2D in a car accident… twice. They then recruited Japanese schoolgirl Noodle to play guitars, and somewhere along the line Russell Hobbs was recruited on drums, before he grew to giant size and got stuck in North Korea… look, it’s better not to ask, OK?? It’s probably something to do with eating too much radioactive jellyfish. On this, their third proper album (all presided over and produced by one Damon Allbran), it seems like there is little live drumming and more processed beats, but that doesn’t hurt the feel. In fact, if anything, tracks like Stylo have an early 80s vibe – like something from before drum machines became a cliché.

All this is without even mentioning the grand concept that appears to be behind the whole Plastic Beach thing. Or that video with Bruce Willis.

Though the album was performed live extensively at the time (and since), it doesn’t seem to have registered at the time as a classic. Gorillaz moved on and put out more content. They fizzled. Their designs were updated. Their sound… well it wasn’t updated, really, but who cares?? Zombie hip-hop never got any better than this. The threatened feature film that would finally clarify what the hell was the story behind all the cartoons has never materialised… yet. And they would never be this good or make music this cool again. In fact, good as the first two are, Beach may be the best Gorillaz album. Did I just say that?? Yeah I did.

4 Superfast Jellyfish (out of 5).


Key Standout Tracks:

Rhinestone Eyes

Stylo (ft. Bobby Womack & Mos Def)

Empire Ants (ft. Yukimi Nagano)

-F

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