Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Gorillaz reach new heights with their vibrant ‘Cracker Island’

The eighth instalment to Gorillaz’ cartoonish catalogue, ‘Cracker Island’ has been uncovered, sporting the familiar digitally enhanced sound that has become a staple of their universally-loved music.

Since the virtual band’s self-titled debut in 2001, Gorillaz have consistently pumped out electrifying records, providing great music to accompany their cartoonish aesthetic. Blur frontman Damon Albarn’s (2-D) and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett’s unorthodox creation of this revolutionary band turned it into the powerhouse it is today—and with a discography that includes the likes of ‘Demon Days’ and ‘Plastic Beach’, we can’t help but be excited to see how the band continue to push the envelope.

Cracker Island’ is a great lesson in experimentation, and much like the band’s previous record, ‘Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez’, this album is teeming with reliable and thought-out features, with some huge names stealing the show at times. That’s not to take away from Gorillaz in the slightest, as their well-crafted production shines throughout the record’s entire runtime.

The title track kicks off the album, offering a quick, sharp re-introduction to the signature Gorillaz sound, exhibited by the infectious, metallic riff that opens this song up. Here, we meet the first of this record’s illustrious features, Thundercat, whose notorious funky bass adds some much-needed depth to the punchy hook, a groove that has been synonymous with Gorillaz since the likes of ‘Clint Eastwood’ on their debut album. This opener provides an almost symphonic experience, with Thundercat’s airy ad libs the perfect response to Albarn’s (2-D’s) simple but effective vocals, keeping the song lively throughout its runtime.

The next instalment, ‘Oil’, piques excitement before even hearing the atmospheric wonder of the track. Seeing Stevie Nicks as the feature, one of the most prominent musical moguls of the 20th century, already tells the listener that this is a generational collaboration. The song is golden, and Nicks’ involvement ensures its dreamlike, almost ethereal sound.

The opening lyrics of ‘The Tired Influencer’, “It’s a cracked screen world”, are the first of many beguiling lines in this colourful track, in which the shattering imagery is the only thing keeping you from getting carried away by the serene synthesisers that float through the song. It’s a beautiful soundscape that guides us to the partially melancholic feel of the next track.

Despite this melancholy, ‘Silent Running’ is possibly the catchiest number on the album, as the refrain of “Run-run-running” accompanied by Adeleye Omotayo’s soulful backing vocals puts many a pop chorus to shame. Alongside this, its emotionally charged lyrics only heighten the heart that the band exemplifies, accentuating the song’s well-roundedness.

One of the leading singles of the record, ‘New Gold’, proves its popularity, with no second-guessing its greatness. Here, Gorillaz almost take a step back, which they can afford to do when you look at the features who take the reins. The listener quickly realises Kevin Parker from Tame Impala is an overdue collaboration once his opening lyrics, with their soft, lulling imagery, lead us into the song. Bootie Brown is all over the verses (and rightfully so), with the Pharcyde rapper being a great addition, especially after ‘Silent Running’, a fun little callback to Brown’s former group’s outstanding classic, ‘Runnin’’.

‘Baby Queen’ is your typical loveable Gorillaz track and could fit on any of their previous albums if not for its stellar production. The clean and crisp sound of this track proves just how far the band have come since their previous album.

Damon Albarn shows off his vocal ability on ‘Tarantula’, proving his skills haven’t diminished at all since his days with Blur. He’s not afraid to glide into that higher register—a range he definitely doesn’t feel uncomfortable being in.

Gorillaz once again take a step back on ‘Tormenta’, letting big-name feature Bad Bunny steal the show with his charm. You have to applaud the band’s holding diversity and representation in high regard, trusting the Puerto Rican rapper to land with his Spanish lyrics and Latin trap roots, which he does extremely well.

Skinny Ape’ comes well out of left field. The introduction sounds similar to a folk ballad, a genre that is far from mind when listening to Gorillaz. However, it seems to be a necessary break before the song returns to its digital sound, making you appreciate it that much more. The dynamics of this track help make this a refreshing and feel-good song to help tie up the record before leading us into a sombre conclusion.

Possession Island’ takes a wonderful turn to finish the album. It’s a breezy, heartfelt acoustic tune that is a masterclass in emotional ballads, brought together by its loveable, classic rock feel aided by Beck’s soothing vocals to perfectly complement the closing track’s sweet sound.

Cracker Island’ is a joy to listen to from beginning to end. From its incredible production to the profound lyricism, Gorillaz have taken their unconventional sound and image to great heights, proving that they have no intention of slowing down anytime soon.


Dillon Walsh


Image: ‘Cracker Island’ Official Album Cover

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful and so well analysed


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