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Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

When they debuted, in 2000, Gorillaz were Damon Albarns pile of bullshit, with silly cartoon members, and an album that seemed – to me – to be a deliberate withdrawal away from emotional intelligence to the flippant, the safe harbour of the shallow. After all, going from the devastatingly naked ‘No Distance Left To Run’ and ‘Tender’ to lyrics about sunshine in a plastic bag is the sound of a man running away from great art and great articulacy to a willing, reductive simplicity.

As it is, I’m always interested in where Albarn is going next. Any hopes that he would’ve explored the mature confessional of ‘Fools Day’ were misplaced – words are short, clipped buzzwords, the vocabulary of the stunted. Albarn wears the mask of idiocy across this record, awash with guest artists as he drifts ever further away from art as communication – unless what he wants to communicate is the ennui of a detached reality where we are all alienated from everything.

‘Plastic Beach’ is, dependent upon how you look at it, the third, or sixth, Gorillaz album. It’s also no surprise that it artistically anesthetised; Albarn deliberately swimming the shallow water. No longer interested in risks, emotions, but creating an alternate reality. And don’t pretend Murdoc, 3D or any other cartoon Japanese girls exist. They don’t. Don’t posit the lie.

Naturally, all music is a reality-altering device, a time travel device. But here, Albarn uses it to obliterate who he used to be in favour of the kind of cosseted concept that, frankly, says nothing to me about my life, and nothing to many people about their lives. With a plethora of guest vocalists – Mark E Smith , De La Soul , Snoop Dogg et al, Gorillaz is the sound of someone who is bored of himself and is desperately keen to be someone else. You can argue it’s disparate, eclectic, and draws from a multitude of influences. I argue that a lyric such as ‘Call the mainland from the beach – the party’s wrapped up in bleach’ is meaningless. The sound of someone who mistakes something said with something worth saying.

Come on Albarn! Get your muse back, take risks, talk about things that matter, not the kind of psycho jumble nonsense that Def Leppard would be proud of. Whilst many of the songs here aren’t bad, they’re not as good, not as brave, nor as revolutionary as they should be. Albarn may be pushing in new directions, but he’s also circling the same territory he has been for years. ‘Stylo’ is danceable, memorable. But so is the ‘Go Compare’ advert – it doesn’t make it worthy. ‘Superfast Jellyfish’ is the sound of a load of irrelevant nonsense. I can live with stupid lyrics (as a deep love of Zodiac Mindwarp attests, there is a great intelligence in being dumb), but these lyrics are just verbal graffiti, placeholders of nothingness, an artistic void. You might as well write a concept album about the neurosis of a whale with a double gatefold painting of an ocean floor.

‘On Melancholy Hill’, though, is fabulous. Despite masking his voice with effects, Albarn sings a beautiful, gentle melody that touches the soul to a retro backing. All too quickly though, the album descends again into vapid nothingness.

Is ‘Plastic Beach’ any good? Well, not to me. I have expectations from artists of what I want – an attempt to be intelligent, articulate, say something worth hearing. Here, as with ‘Demon Days’ and the debut, Albarn has crafted a fine, competent pop-hop record that seems utterly ashamed of emotions, a Vulcan pop album that deals in concepts, ideas, and a willing reductive simplicity in favour of an artistic numbness. One wonders if, after the raw glory of ‘13’, Albarn simply withdrew rather than explore. So, ‘Plastic Beach’, you are OK. If you want something an emotionless, inarticulate collection that is swamped in melody, expensive production, and a vague melancholy – ‘I am so sad, I don’t know why’ – this is right up your street and painted on your alley. But some people are so undemanding, and me, I want more.

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