So, which Damon Albarn is going to turn up here, then? Will it be the extroverted frontman of Blur who strolled onto a sun-drenched stage in Hyde Park beckoning the masses in July 2009, or the side-stage dwelling, limelight-shunning organiser behind Africa Express’ jaw-dropping Paris show a month later? Well, a bit of both and neither, really. Little over six months after he was playing ‘Country House’, Albarn turns his attention towards the conceptual, genre-leaping futuregroove of Gorillaz with gloriously stunning results – third album ‘Plastic Beach’ is a flawlessly executed neo-pop masterpiece
As with all of Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s work so far, there’s more going on here than just the music – the story of the world’s most successful virtual band now arriving at Point Nemo, where bassist Murdoc Niccals has set up Gorillaz HQ atop a floating trash island in the South Pacific, where he’s keeping singer 2D hostage and has built a cyborg version of guitarist Noodle (head online to check out the trailer that swirls around Hewlett’s monstrous, monumental Plastic Beach installation) - but the sheer strength of the songs demand they hog the attention.
Celebrity voyeurism and rampant consumerism are recurring themes throughout, Gorillaz’ reaction to the X Factor (de)generation an album of blistering-yet-melancholic, indelible-yet-throwaway pop songs – no-one quite does contrary-pop like Gorillaz.
The short, lush swirl of ‘Orchestral Intro’ precedes the industrial groove of ‘Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach’, Snoop Dogg’s menacing drawl taking centrestage as Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s horns hover around a cool-as-fuck bass-glide behind him, next grime heroes Kano and Bashy spar over The National Orchestra For Arabic Music, themselves putting up a fight against a cascading wave of beats, whilst Damon comes out from behind the limelight to bask in it on ‘Rhinestone Eyes’. It’s relentlessly brilliant, all the more so for the way it effortlessly glues together its guest stars – all is one, it seems, in the murky world of Gorillaz.
Highlights continue to come thick’n’fast; Mark E.Smith’s psychohollers punctuate the middle of ‘Glitter Freezes’’ sonicstrobes and Gruff Rhys steals the show from De La Soul on the psychedelic surge of ‘Superfast Jellyfish’. The symphonic soulfulness with which Bobby Womack croons over penultimate track ‘Cloud Of Unknowing’, meanwhile, guides ‘Plastic Beach’ towards its finishing point with a poignant, prurient sadness.
A seamless coming together of artists, cultures and themes on a record by a band that doesn’t even exist; on ‘Plastic Beach’, Damon Albarn’s Midas touch is bordering on genius. Git.