It was time for Gorillaz to return to a wholesome steadiness. Though the brainchild of Blur’s Damon Albarn and visible artist Jamie Hewlett has remained glued to just about the identical components for over twenty years, they’ve been toying with its extremes in recent times – emulating a solo album on 2018’s guest-light The Now Now, then leaning into its playlist-friendly qualities with 2020’s overstuffed Music Machine: Season One: Unusual Timez. The brand new album, Cracker Island, even apparently started as a continuation of that mission earlier than being restructured as a traditional album, one which may strike simply the best chord for followers of the band’s earlier, extra streamlined run of releases. If which means recycling the thematic issues and broad-strokes dystopianism of classics like Plastic Seaside, it’s a danger this world-renowned gang of cartoon characters is keen to take.
For probably the most half, it really works to their profit. If there’s a wierd cloud hovering over Cracker Island, it’s obtained little to do with the album’s idea – we’re informed the group has relocated to Silverlake, California, the place they’ve found “the one fact to repair the world is to ask followers to affix ‘The Final Cult’.” It’s how this world, with all its new issues, seems seemingly unchanged, and the way content material Albarn and firm appear to reply by sticking to their weapons. The result’s an album the place practically each selection feels each calculated and easy, that’s cautious of falling into the entice of nostalgia however isn’t fairly energized to maneuver the needle, both. They keep away from making it really feel like a retread of previous floor largely by tightening the songs’ construction – you possibly can hear it in a track like ‘Oil’, which barely quickens the heartbeat of a traditional Gorillaz ballad.
Left with the duty of livening issues up are Cracker Island‘s friends, who are sometimes cleverly employed. ‘Oil’ is elevated by an look from Stevie Nicks, whose signature rasp grounds a track that has its eye to the cosmos. The reality on cracker island, they are saying on the title monitor, is “AutoTuned,” and the hope Gorillaz supply can really feel that manner too – however when the 2 voices finish the track by declaring that “Particular person actions change the world/ Fill them up with love,” the invitation feels real and transferring, not a part of some narrative ploy. Even when noteworthy friends don’t actually take heart stage, their skills aren’t underutilized: Thundercat and Beck are there to shine probably the most vibrant and downcast songs on the album – ‘Cracker Island’ and the nearer ‘Possession Island’, respectively – however their contributions add a soulful, human contact that’s sorely missing elsewhere. But it surely’s Adeleye Omotayo’s ethereal efficiency that renders ‘Silent Working’ one of many album’s largest highlights, countering the track’s jaded, melancholy fantasies by making them really feel much less acquainted and cartoonish.
Nonetheless, Cracker Island appears to seek out solace not a lot in its message of unity however the world-weary pleasantness that pervades it. That is nothing new for Gorillaz. Not a lot on the album is – apart from ‘Tormenta’, a collaboration with Dangerous Bunny that’s so refreshing and vital it virtually feels apparent (and in a extra thrilling manner than Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker and Bootie Brown buying and selling verses on ‘New Gold’). Albarn’s palpable fascination with the prospect animates the track as a lot as Dangerous Bunny’s usually participating efficiency, the form of pleasure that’s then dropped at ‘Skinny Ape’, an electrifying jolt of power that’s extra reliant on Gorillaz’s personal model. Clearly, the group can excel in each modes. As they embark on their seek for the one fact, a press launch informs us what the characters have been as much as, and “2D is busy being 2D.” Although this isn’t framed like one other 2D solo album, it solidifies the impression that, as fashionable society continues to decay, Gorillaz can be busy being Gorillaz. After they do it proper, that may solely be a blessing.