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Gorillaz make a 90s megamix

March 8, 2010

Last night I watched the video for the new Gorillaz clip, Stylo, and was so thrilled by it that I got the entire new Plastic Beach album and put it on my phone to listen to in the car this morning. The video is practically overwhelming with raw cool – fast cars, leather jackets, fat cops, guns and the trademark Bruce Willis yippee-ka-yay smile at the end. The back beat is a solid late 80’s synth bass track with a high pitched and catchy vocal track. The lyrics are spacious and the pacing is controlled. I was hooked and enthralled that Gorillaz have finally put out some new music – the last high water mark of Clint Eastwood was too long ago.

The kind Auckland traffic this morning offered me a spectacular opportunity to listen to almost the entire album while being stuck in a jam on the way to work. In brief, on the first listen, the album held up OK. Too much plastic, not enough beach maybe. The tracks wonderfully bring together hooks, words, emotions and motives of many 70’s, 80’s and 90’s songs in my memory – power ballads of Boston, Boney M pop tunes, self-referential underground rap of Dj Vadim, laser soundscapes of Jean Michel Jarre and lots of other artists thrown together. Thrown together rather well, because Gorillaz didn’t copy the music but instead stole the underlying feelings and emotions. For a megamix of the last three decades, the album stands up surprisingly well – although I can’t say the same about the complexity and quality of the writing.

Lets see what gets done well – and, preeminently, because the album is a piece of interpretive art, it’s the emotional aftertaste of the songs. I felt great after listening to it. The songs were technically simple and didn’t make much sense at first, but the remaining feelings developed after a few minutes in my mind. Didn’t I hear that last part in .. wasn’t that like the time I was .. did that last song remind me of .. how did they? I laughed when I heard the a rap track in the late 90’s style suddenly change into bubblegum pop in Superfast Jellyfish. I felt great. Empire Ants had perfect timing of a relaxed rock ballad, but certainly sounded nothing like one. Glitter Freeze could really have been done better and be less repetitive – it’s the first song I felt like skipping because yes, it made a point, but there was no need to hammer it in with continuous laser effects.

The album is great as a trip back to the last few decades. Unlike much of the synth-driven mass-produced factory pop that sets the base direction of the album, it has a meaning and brings up emotions. Rather unfortunately, the musical styling stays within simplistic bass lines and lead scales and doesn’t go out of the ordinary like the previous work on, say, Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey’s Head. The sound is mostly made on a synth, and while yes, that’s the whole point of the album as I see it, it could have been done better and on a more complex level, just look at the awesome layering work on Massive Attack’s Pray for Rain. Even doing the bass lines on a real bass guitar would have added more dimension to the sound. It would be curious to listen to this music live.

In any case, I am so excited for the breakout success of the lead single Stylo. It does so many things right that I am glad to now have a 90’s megamix that I never knew I always wanted.

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