"Plastic Beach." Gorillaz. Back in 2001, when Gorillaz's debut first hit, it was little more than a side project for Blur's Damon Albarn and comic-book artist Jaime Hewlett. With a stellar supporting cast, the Gorillaz debut blended modern rock and hip-hop aesthetics in a manner that was as seamless as it was undeniably cool.
By the time the second album, "Demon Days," hit a few years later, the cast had shifted up a bit to include the likes of Danger Mouse and Dennis Hopper, resulting in an even bigger hit than the first time around.
With its third release, "Plastic Beach," the artistic collective has widened to include Southern California rap icon Snoop Dogg, '70s soul pioneer Bobby Womack and proto-punk legend Lou Reed. Although not as instantly memorable as the two previous outings, "Plastic Beach" bristles with ideas, merging genres with odd pairings that make no sense on paper but pay off !-- often brilliantly -- on record.
After a somewhat sluggish start the album comes to life with Albarn's deadpan apocalyptic musings on "Rhinestone Eyes." The lead single "Stylo" features the always-solid mike skills of Mos Def bumping up against Womack's rich voice, complemented by a retroactive synth throb that sounds lifted from a Gary Numan album.
"Superfast Jellyfish" is a satirical ode to fast-food culture manned by hip-hop vets De La Soul and Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys, hearkening back to the rap trio's groundbreaking work with Prince Paul two decades ago. "Glitter Freeze" boasts an appearance by The Fall's Mark E. Smith, with his cranky mutterings bleeding through a wall of screeching sirens, and "On Melancholy Hill" switches gears into sun-kissed pop territory.
At 16 tracks deep, "Plastic Beach" is bogged down with its considerable weight, and certain guest spots pay off a little more than others. But three albums in, Gorillaz still remain one of the most interesting collectives on the music scene.
Of course, the music is only part of the Gorillaz package. At the group's website, one can access loads of content courtesy of visual artist Hewlett, whose creepy illustrations and animations add further texture to the project.
"Plastic Beach" might not be an instant classic, but it gets by with its boundless creativity and loads of style.