Originally published by PopMatters on December 13, 2010
#22 - Gorillaz: Plastic Beach
When Damon Albarn puts together a mixtape, he really goes the extra mile. Three albums in to his Gorillaz career, the Blur frontman isn’t treating his cartoon cavalcade like a side project anymore. While its predecessor, Demon Days certainly sharpened the concept, Plastic Beach perfected it, bringing on a host of all-star associates to create one of the year’s best albums. The percentage of albums featuring cameos from Snoop Dogg over the past decade must be as staggeringly high as Snoop by his own admission often is, but his choice as the host of Plastic Beach is as inspired as the segue into the hip-hop/Arabic mash-up of “White Flag”. And therein lies the beauty of Plastic Beach, an album made by many hands, yet with enough of a common thread to not only keep the whole together, but also allow it to work fully in a live setting with a band that boasts half of the Clash among its ranks.
Reading more like an idle flip through the record collection of someone you wouldn’t mind taking a road trip with, Plastic Beach features collaborations with Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, Lou Reed, Mos Def, De La Soul, Mark E. Smith, Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, Little Dragon and Bobby Womack. The latter sounds a million miles away from his halcyon days in the soulful ‘70s, but his voice has matured into something both rougher and more beautiful. Indeed, Womack’s work on the album’s first single, “Stylo”, and on its emotional denouement, “Cloud of Unknowing”, are possibly the best performances on an album hardly lacking in them.
It’s possible Albarn sleeps maybe two hours a night, as he’s apparently recorded a Gorillaz follow-up on an iPad while on the road with the band, has plans early in the year for new Blur material and is nearly finished with an Afrobeat album with Flea and Tony Allen. In the meantime, there’s Plastic Beach, a journey that still sounds as fresh and vibrant as the moment it dropped.