Plastic Beach

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Plastic Beach
The cover of the third Gorillaz album "Plastic Beach". An artificial island rests on the ocean during a sunset. Apart from the base, it is mostly mushroom-shaped. It contains a few palm trees and small buildings. At the very top is a large white building with many windows. Other objects in and around the island include a ship, a buoy, a lighthouse and a crate. The view shows the opposite side of the island from the "Experience Edition" cover. In the lower left corner are the uppercase words "Gorillaz Plastic Beach" on separate rows. They are white and in a thick, wavy font.
Studio album by Gorillaz
Released 3 March 2010 (2010-03-03)
Recorded June 2008 – November 2009, in New York City, Damascus and London
Genre Pop, hip hop, trip hop
Length 56:46
Label Parlophone, Virgin
Producer Gorillaz
Gorillaz chronology
D-Sides
(2007)
Plastic Beach
(2010)
The Fall
(2011)
Damon Albarn chronology
All the People: Blur Live at Hyde Park
(2009)
Plastic Beach
(2010)
The Fall
(2011)
Singles from Plastic Beach
  1. "Stylo"
    Released: 26 January 2010
  2. "Superfast Jellyfish"
    Released: 9 March 2010
  3. "On Melancholy Hill"
    Released: 26 July 2010
  4. "Rhinestone Eyes"
    Released: 6 September 2010

Plastic Beach is the third studio album by British virtual band Gorillaz, released 3 March 2010 on Parlophone and Virgin Records. Conceived from an unfinished Gorillaz project called Carousel, the album was recorded from June 2008 to November 2009 and produced primarily by group co-creator Damon Albarn. It features guest appearances by several artists, including Snoop Dogg, Gruff Rhys, De La Soul, Bobby Womack, Mos Def, Lou Reed, Mick Jones, Mark E. Smith, Paul Simonon, Bashy, Kano, Little Dragon and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.

The album debuted at number two on the UK Albums Chart, selling 74,000 copies in its first week. In the United States, it debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 112,000 copies, and it also charted within the top ten in several other countries. Plastic Beach received generally positive reviews from most music critics.

Background[edit]

Carousel[edit]

Creators of Gorillaz, musician Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett, began working on a new Gorillaz project in November 2007 called Carousel,[1] which evolved into Plastic Beach, the group's third studio album.[2] In the November 2007 issue of Q, when asked what his top priority for 2008 was, Damon Albarn replied "Well, I'm doing the next Gorillaz thing, but it won't be called Gorillaz."[1] In the February 2008 Gorillaz-Unofficial interview, Jamie Hewlett elaborated on this, saying "I think the idea behind it is that it's like how The Who presented their movies – Tommy and Quadrophenia and so on. Those were presented as by 'The Who' even though none of the members of the band were in the movies. I don't think anyone from The Who was in Quadrophenia. But it's the same people working on it, that's the principle."[3] In a July 2008 interview with The Observer he also said, "Gorillaz now to us is not like four animated characters any more — it's more like an organisation of people doing new projects. [...] That's my ideal model — Gorillaz is a group of people who gave you this, and now want to give you new stuff."[4]

In the Observer interview, Hewlett said that there is "a new project which Damon and I are working on now, called Carousel, which is even bigger and more difficult than Monkey, and it isn't going to fit anywhere and no one's going to like it, ha ha ha! We've started work — I've done a lot of visuals and Damon's done a lot of music but we haven't figured out how they're going to fit together. I can't say much about it yet but it's sort of like a film, but not with one narrative story. There's many stories, told around a bigger story, set to music, and done in live action, animation, all different styles, well... originally it was a film but now we think it's a film and it's a stage thing as well and... look, it's basically us doing what the fuck we want without worrying about whether it's for a record company or a film company or whatever. So I'm not sure how it'll pan out, or even if it will happen. But Damon's written around 70 songs for it, and I've got great plans for the visuals, but right now, at this moment, it's still just a really good idea."[4] Carousel was to be about the mystical aspects of Britain.[2]

Concept[edit]

Damon Albarn got the idea for Plastic Beach while on a beach next to his house: "I was just looking for all the plastic within the sand", he said.[2] On 17 September 2008, Albarn and Jamie Hewlett announced that they would be doing another Gorillaz album in an interview with CBC News.[5] Hewlett said that from their work on Monkey, "we just learned more about what we do, musically and artistically. That's a great place to come at when we come to another Gorillaz album. It doesn't have to be animation and music".[6] Hewlett also expressed annoyance at having to draw the band members again: "I'm so f--king [sic] bored of drawing those characters. But then we had a moment where we had a new angle on it... I'm gonna adapt them".[5] In a later interview Hewlett said: "they'll be the same characters, but a little bit older and told in a different way".[7]

Albarn said in September 2008 that he wanted "to work with an incredibly eclectic, surprising cast of people".[8] As with previous Gorillaz albums, Plastic Beach features a number of collaborations with other musicians and music groups. The album features Snoop Dogg, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Kano, Bashy, Bobby Womack, Mos Def, Gruff Rhys, De La Soul, Little Dragon, Mark E. Smith, Lou Reed, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Yukimi Nagano, sinfonia ViVA and The Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music.[9]

Recording[edit]

Albarn began recording material for a new Gorillaz album around June 2008.[10] He travelled to Beirut in March 2009 to record with the National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music.[11] The following month, he recorded with Derby-based orchestra sinfonia ViVA.[11] Grime MCs Kano and Bashy, who feature on "White Flag", both had the flu during recording. Kano said "We weren't feeling great, the music was out of our comfort zone, it could have been a complete disaster".[11] Bobby Womack knew nothing about Gorillaz and was initially unsure about the collaboration, however, his daughter liked Gorillaz and convinced him to do it.[12] Womack was told to sing whatever was on his mind during the recording of "Stylo". "I was in there for an hour going crazy about love and politics, getting it off my chest", said Womack.[11] After an hour of recording, Womack, a diabetic, started to pass out. He was sat down and given a banana, before waking up minutes later.[11] "Sweepstakes", the first song Mos Def recorded with Gorillaz,[13] was done in one take.[11] Mos Def described the song as "one of the greatest things as an MC that I've ever done".[13] Mick Jones and Paul Simonon completed their portion of the title track "Plastic Beach" in a day.[11]

"This record has only scratched the surface of [that] period of work and the sort of adventures we went on," he said. The unreleased material is "some really out-there stuff, which hopefully will see the light of day at some point". Among these is a song Gorillaz wanted to record with Engelbert Humperdinck. "He was supposed to do it, but then he declined, which was a real shame," Albarn explained to New York magazine. "It's a very dramatic song, very moving. Arabic strings. It's imagining Earth losing its gravitational pull and starting to fall." As it turned out, Humperdinck's manager had listened to the proposed selection and declined the offer for him without his knowing. Humperdinck later stated in an interview that his manager declining the collaboration offer was, "the most grievous sin ever committed," and that he would have gladly collaborated with the Gorillaz if he had known they asked.[14][15] With or without Humperdinck, Albarn insists the tune will eventually be released. "I'm going to finish that off," he said. "It just needs the vocal. We've made contact with Indian singer Asha Bhosle and I think it's definitely going to happen. I'll maybe duet with her; the song has these answering phrases."[16]

Several musicians who collaborated on songs for the album did not end up having all or any of their songs appear on the final album; some guests announced to have collaborated with the band do not feature on the album. British garage rock band The Horrors were invited to play on the album after Albarn heard their 2009 album Primary Colours.[17] They recorded a track with Albarn,[18] but no songs with the band appear on the final album. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Posdnuos of De La Soul said that the group had provided vocals on two songs for the album, "Electric Shock" and "Sloped Tropics".[19] De La Soul only features on one song on the album, titled "Superfast Jellyfish". Gruff Rhys recorded two songs — "Superfast Jellyfish" and "Leviathan". The latter, described by Rhys as "more of a night-time song, a three o'clock in the morning, speeding down the autobahn evading West German police-type track", does not feature on the album.[11] Mos Def said that he collaborated with Albarn on three songs;[13] however, Def only appears on two songs on the album. Albarn had previously announced that musician Barry Gibb would feature on the album but Gibb did not turn up to any recording sessions.[2] Animated Gorillaz bassist Murdoc said the band had collaborated with actress Una Stubbs. Although, Damon Albarn confirmed on Reddit that the band did not actually collaborate with Stubbs.[10][20]

Music[edit]

Little Dragon feature on the track "Empire Ants". Yukimi Nagano (second from left) also contributes vocals on "To Binge".

According to The Times journalist Peter Paphides, Plastic Beach is a pop and concept album,[21] while AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine said that "Damon's painstaking pancultural pop junk-mining" on the album posits hip hop with Britpop and "accentuates moody texture over pop hooks".[22] Pitchfork Media's Sean Fennessey wrote that "ornate Village Green Preservation Society-style pop" is the dominant style on Plastic Beach, but that Albarn also "dips into Krautrock, funk, and dubstep, as well as the weary, more melodic music he's been perfecting for much of last decade" on an album that serves as "sort of an electronic take on baroque pop."[23] According to Mojo magazine's Danny Eccleston, the album reprises the "combination of stupid-fresh pop melody, 21st-century hip hop substructure and catholic cast of collaborators" featured on Demon Days,[24] while Miles Marshall Lewis of The Village Voice observed "funky electroclash" and hip hop elements in the music.[25] AbsolutePunk saw Plastic Beach as a "full-blown trip hop/hip hop album",[26] while HipHopDX observed elements of soft rock and surf rock.[27]

Albarn said in an interview, "I'm making this one the most pop record I've ever made in many ways, but with all my experience to try and at least present something that has got depth."[2] He added, "I suppose what I've done with this Gorillaz record is I've tried to connect pop sensibility with ... trying to make people understand the essential melancholy of buying a ready made meal in loads of plastic packaging. People who watch X Factor might have some emotional connection to these things, this detritus that accompanies what seems to be the most important thing in people's eyes, the celebrity voyeurism."[2]

The first time Albarn went to Mali, he was taken to a landfill where he saw people "taking every little bit, a little bit of fabric to the fabric regenerators, or the metal and the cans to the ironsmiths and the aluminium recyclers, and it goes on and by the time you get to the road, they're selling stuff."[2] When Albarn went to a landfill outside of London to record the sound of seagulls for the album, he noticed a juxtaposition between the way the two countries dealt with rubbish.[2] "They've got more snakes... like adders, grass snakes, slow worms, toads, frogs, newts, all kinds of rodents, all kinds of squirrels, a massive amount of squirrels, a massive amount of foxes, and obviously, seagulls. [...] This is part of the new ecology. And for the first time I saw the world in a new way. I've always felt, I'm trying to get across on this new record, the idea that plastic, we see it as being against nature but it's come out of nature. We didn't create plastic, nature created plastic. And just seeing the snakes like living in the warmth of decomposing plastic bags. They like it. It was a strange kind of optimism that I felt... but trying to get that into pop music is a challenge, anyway. But important."[2]

Albarn says the album maintains a lot of the melancholy from Carousel.[2] He worked hard on making his lyrics and melodies clear on the album.[2] "Loads of orchestral stuff" was recorded but only a fraction made it onto the final album.[2] On 14 January 2009 Damon Albarn appeared on BBC Radio 1 with animated bass player Murdoc Niccals and played a selection of songs including four demos for Plastic Beach they included: "Electric Shock" which features Derby-based Orchestra sinfonia ViVA (though this songs does not appear on the album though has certain elements of it used on the "Rhinestone Eyes" track), the then demo for "Stylo" known formally as "Binge" and the demo for "Broken".

Release and promotion[edit]

On a black background is red uppercase text in a thick wavy font. The top line says "Gorillaz", the second line says "Plastic" and the third line says "Beach".
The Plastic Beach logo used in promotional videos
The iTunes edition of Plastic Beach makes up for a total of four different covers, all showing different angles of the Plastic Beach under different lighting in order to give the effect of day, evening, twilight and night. Photographs by Tristan Oliver.

A new picture of the band was published on 9 December 2009 on the cover of the UK edition of Wired magazine. On 14 January 2010, Albarn made an appearance as a guest DJ on BBC Radio 1, premiering demos of three new Gorillaz songs — "Electric Shock", "Broken" and "Stylo".[28] "Stylo" was heavily edited for its final version, while "Broken" remained mostly unchanged. "Electric Shock" did not make the album, though samples of the song were used in "Rhinestone Eyes", as well as the intro orchestral separated into bonus track "Three Hearts, Seven Seas, Twelve Moons".

On 20 January 2010, the official Gorillaz website was heavily revamped to fit the Plastic Beach theme. Over a period of time, a numerous amount of short clips were posted on the site, mainly showing various shots of a large Plastic Beach model backed by segments of new Gorillaz music. Out of the 13 short clips, only two of the clips had audio that would eventually end up on the album. The tracks were "White Flag" and "Pirate's Progress" (an extended version of the Orchestral Intro found on the album). Also on the website was a countdown timer, which on 23 February 2010 counted down to zero. After a significant delay, a new full Kong studios-esque interactive Plastic Beach "Beachsite" was uploaded onto the website, opening certain sections of Plastic Beach to be visited by guests.

On 21 January 2010, Gorillaz member Murdoc "took over" NME Radio and Yahoo! Radio. He played a 45-minute set of songs while providing exposition on the story of Gorillaz. A total of five broadcasts were uploaded online, leading to the release of the album. All five are now available on the official Gorillaz website.

Similar to the previous album, short animated "idents" have been released for fictional band members Murdoc, 2D, Russel, and the Noodle cyborg. The first depicts Murdoc fleeing from an unknown, rifle-wielding assailant (featuring a clip of "Three Hearts, Seven Seas, Twelve Moons" in the background), and the second depicts 2D's abduction and transportation to Plastic Beach by a masked figure (with a snippet of the instrumental version of "Rhinestone Eyes"). The track can be found as a bonus track along with "Pirate's Progress" on the iTunes Deluxe edition. Russel's ident has him stomping off of the edge of a pier and diving into the ocean, presumably headed to Plastic Beach for reasons unknown. The fourth features a zoom in on the cyborg with its face plate open. A fifth ident was also released, showing a luxury cruise sail being bombarded by torpedoes coming from planes flying above it. A crew member rushes over to cabin 13 to warn a passenger, who is revealed to be Noodle (wearing the oni mask), that the cruise is under attack by pirates and he was told to escort her to the lifeboats. Noodle then grabs her briefcase and opens it, revealing a gun, and passes the crew member while heading out, presumably to face the pirates. Noodle's ident acts as a trailer to the "On Melancholy Hill" music video, which was released on 15 June.

On 26 February 2010, a "minimix" of the album was made available on the official website to download for free.[29] The minimix is an eight-minute composition of songs from the album, a number of which had not been previously released.

"Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach", "Rhinestone Eyes" and "White Flag" were premiered on the Australian radio station Triple J on 28 February 2010, in respective order, at one hour intervals. On 1 March 2010, NPR debuted the entire album via streaming.[30] Later on in the day, the album also become available for streaming at Guardian.co.uk.[31]

Singles[edit]

The album produced four singles.

Reception[edit]

Commercial performance[edit]

Plastic Beach debuted at number two on the UK Albums Chart with first week sales of 74,000 copies.[32] The album also debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, having sold 112,000 copies in its first week, of which 62,000 were digital copies.[33][34] As of 25 March 2010, Plastic Beach sold 8,136 copies in Japan and debuted at seventeenth place on the Oricon albums chart. Selling 13,822 copies in France, Plastic Beach debuted at second place on the SNEP albums chart.[35]

Critical response[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3.5/5 stars[22]
The A.V. Club B+[36]
Entertainment Weekly B[37]
The Guardian 4/5 stars[38]
Mojo 3/5 stars[24]
Pitchfork Media 8.5/10[23]
Q 5/5 stars[39]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[40]
Slant Magazine 5/5 stars[41]
Spin 7/10[42]

Plastic Beach received generally positive reviews from music critics; it holds an aggregate score of 77 out of 100 at Metacritic.[43] Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine said that the album's success depends on Albarn's growth as a composer: "he's a master of subtly shifting moods and intricately threaded allusions, often creating richly detailed collages that are miniature marvels."[22] Q magazine's David Everley described it as "some of the most forward-thinking pop you'll hear this or any year."[39] Rolling Stone '​s Rob Sheffield cited it as "Gorillaz's third excellent album in a row".[40] Chicago Tribune writer Greg Kot viewed the album as "slightly less immediate" than previous Gorillaz albums, but praised Albarn's ability to weave "seemingly mismatched elements from different cultures, genres and generations and creating something wonderful".[44] Uncut magazine called it "a brilliant concept album, full of perfect pop singles."[45] Huw Jones of Slant Magazine praised Albarn's musicianship and claimed that "Plastic Beach provides the almighty shakeup that pop music has needed for some time".[41] Pete Paphides, writing for The Times, said that "this concept group has delivered its most fully realised concept album".[21] The Guardian '​s Alexis Petridis commended Damon Albarn for his "kaleidoscopic musical ambition", and wrote "Not all of Plastic Beach '​s concoctions work... but there's something hugely impressive about Albarn's ability to coax artists out of their comfort zone."[38]

In a negative review, Los Angeles Times writer Mikael Wood said that "too many of these 16 hazy, half-crazy tracks sound like undercooked studio goofs".[46] Wood panned its second half and wrote that it "plays like one long, jammy drone, with none of Albarn's melodic or lyrical gifts on display".[46] Danny Eccleston of Mojo commented that "Albarn and co's eco-parable is loud but not clear."[24] Entertainment Weekly '​s Leah Greenblatt viewed its "sonic drift" as "dull, and even dispiriting" in the album's second half, stating "In the end, Beach offers a vision of the future as digitised kitsch: groovy, yes, but lonely too".[37] Jon Caramanica of The New York Times viewed its music as "thin and inconsequential, car-commercial electronic funk and tension-free hip-hop", while writing "It’s an appealing mess, moving at a fever pitch until swelling to something like an enthused climax. But still, a mess".[47] In his consumer guide for MSN Music, Robert Christgau singled out "Some Kind of Nature" and "Superfast Jellyfish" as "choice cuts",[48] indicating good songs on an album that is unworthy of listeners' money or time.[49]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Length
1. "Orchestral Intro" (featuring Sinfonia ViVA) 1:09
2. "Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach" (featuring Snoop Dogg and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble) 3:35
3. "White Flag" (featuring Bashy, Kano and the National Orchestra for Arabic Music) 3:42
4. "Rhinestone Eyes"   3:19
5. "Stylo" (featuring Bobby Womack and Mos Def) 4:29
6. "Superfast Jellyfish" (featuring De La Soul and Gruff Rhys) 2:54
7. "Empire Ants" (featuring Little Dragon) 4:43
8. "Glitter Freeze" (featuring Mark E. Smith) 4:02
9. "Some Kind of Nature" (featuring Lou Reed) 2:59
10. "On Melancholy Hill"   3:53
11. "Broken"   3:16
12. "Sweepstakes" (featuring Mos Def and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble) 5:19
13. "Plastic Beach" (featuring Mick Jones and Paul Simonon) 3:46
14. "To Binge" (featuring Little Dragon) 3:55
15. "Cloud of Unknowing" (featuring Bobby Womack and Sinfonia ViVA) 3:05
16. "Pirate Jet"   2:32
Total length:
56:46
Sample credits
  • "Superfast Jellyfish" contains a sample of "It's Your Thing" by Cold Grits and "Great Starts Frozen Breakfast Sandwiches" by Swanson[53]

Personnel[edit]

Gorillaz[edit]

Musicians and others[edit]

Charts[edit]

Chart positions[edit]

Chart precession and succession[edit]

Preceded by
Recollection by k.d. lang
Australian Albums Chart number-one album
15 March 2010 – 22 March 2010
Succeeded by
Down the Way by Angus & Julia Stone

Release history[edit]

"Plastic Beach" was released in a total of six editions, many of which contain a multitude of exclusive features. These are shown below:

Standard edition Experience edition Japanese standard edition Japanese experience edition iTunes standard edition iTunes deluxe edition Vinyl Edition
Standard 16 tracks Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Bonus track: "Pirate's Progress" No No Yes Yes No Yes No
Bonus track: "Three Hearts, Seven Seas, Twelve Moons" No No No No No Yes No
Stickers and poster No No Yes Yes No No No
Making of Plastic Beach DVD No Yes No Yes No No No
Access to exclusive online content[note 1] No Yes No Yes No Yes No
Lyrics No No Yes
(physical booklet)
Yes
(physical booklet)
Yes
(digital)
Yes
(digital)
No
Notebook Partial Yes Partial Yes Partial Yes No
"Stylo" music video No No No Yes No Yes No
Access to iTunes LP features No No No No No Yes No
T-shirt[note 2] Depends Depends No No No No No
  1. ^ Content such as wallpapers and screensaver(s) offered may vary depending on the edition.
  2. ^ The T-shirt offered varies depending on the edition.

References[edit]

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