The Case for Plastic Beach
By Justin Cudahy, Staff Writer.
Let me start off by saying that both Demon Days and Plastic Beach are amongst my favorite albums. However, the way I see it, Plastic Beach took everything that Demon Days did right, and brought it to a whole new level. There is a lot more to Gorillaz than just the music. That being said, I’ll also be defending the band’s Phase three timeline, which not only includes the album but everything else associated with it.
When it comes to the music, Plastic Beach is severely underrated. Its songs are often overshadowed by their more popular tracks such as “Feel Good Inc.” and “DARE” off Demon Days, which has diverted attention away from their other stuff. “On Melancholy Hill”, “Stylo”, “Empire Ants” … I could go on and list every track off Plastic Beach, but I won’t.
When comparing the opening tracks to both albums, Plastic Beach has Demon Days beat by a mile. “Orchestral Intro” sets up the rest of the album smoothly, while also segueing perfectly into “Welcome to The World of The Plastic Beach”. Plastic Beach also manages to close out the album a lot stronger than its predecessor, thanks to Bobby Womack who provides the beautiful vocals to “Cloud of Unknowing” before finally ending with the chilling yet poetic track, “Pirate Jet” which is guaranteed to give you goosebumps.
One of the things that make Gorillaz unique is their constant collaborations with several different artists. They established this style with their self-titled album in 2001, extended it in Demon Days, and then perfected it in Plastic Beach. Guest artists such as Snoop Dogg, De La Soul, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Little Dragon, Lou Reed from The Velvet Underground, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash, and even The National Orchestra for Arabic Music star throughout, showcasing the band’s diversity and arsenal of different styles and genres.
Another thing that Plastic Beach does better is feed into an actual theme. While Demon Days is also a conceptual album, it feels more like a collection of songs rather than an album with a story. Plastic Beach takes on a rather humanitarian approach by providing insightful commentary and taking a stance on ideas such as pollution, war, battling addiction and much more. It’s clever, and the more you listen to the album, the more it will grow on you. While Demon Days was more of a commercial success, Plastic Beach was an artistic success for the band, and real fans will understand that.
Outside of the music, Demon Days beats Plastic Beach in one thing, and that’s music videos. “Dirty Harry”, “El Mañana”, “Feel Good Inc.” and “DARE”? Even I know those were some great videos. To be fair, Plastic Beach suffered from budget cuts during its production, which as a result led to the scrapping of the music video for “Rhinestone Eyes” which, judging by the storyboard, would have been sweet. Despite that, the few videos that did come out in this phase were amazing. “Stylo” was filmed as a live-action music video and features Bruce Willis, so that automatically makes it cool. “On Melancholy Hill”, (which is also my favorite Gorillaz’s song)
had an amazing video as well. I mean come on, watching Noodle fire a machine gun on a sinking cruise ship while being shot at by fighter jets? That’s about as badass as it gets.
Another thing that makes Plastic Beach and Phase three for the band so great is the artwork. Despite being an animated band, the members age in real time which leads to a change and progression in artwork from co-creator, Jamie Hewlett. It is during this phase that we see some of the best artwork from Hewlett, which, when compared to Demon Days and Phase two, looks a lot more clean and stylistic. It may not be as important as the music itself, but it is still a factor.
I could go on forever talking about the storyline, live performances and such, but I think I’ve proven my point. Listen to Plastic Beach, and by that, I mean really listen to it, from beginning to end. If you can do that, then you will understand what I mean when I say that this is one of the most important albums of our time.
The Case for Demon Days
By Jon Fuchs, Music Director
What’s fascinating about a band like Gorillaz is that they don’t conform to just one specific genre. Obviously, Damon Albarn and co. take influences from several, like rock, hip-hop and other musical styles from various world cultures, but they shape them in a way where all their albums sound different, creating eras within their career. The most matured and aesthetically-interesting era out of them is the middle of their career, when they released Demon Days in 2005, which was arguably the best Gorillaz have ever sounded.
I remember when “Feel Good Inc.” flooded the radio and Apple iPod ads when it first came out. I was seven years old and was just beginning to realize what exactly modern pop culture was, since the only music I can remember liking as a kid was my parents’ Beatles CDs and the original London cast recording of Les Misérables. But when I heard “Feel Good Inc.,” I was blown away at the weirdness of it. It stuck with me until I saw the CD at my local music shop, and I begged my dad to buy it for me. With one listen of that record, my perspective of the music around me changed.
The minute-long intro to Demon Days could only be described as haunting. The haunting atmosphere brought on by what sounds like a droning bass clarinet and an endless sample of the line “Who put chemicals in the food chain?” It sets the mood for this emotionally dense record and continues into “Last Living Souls” and “Kids with Guns,” two extremely catchy tracks that have subtle political commentary. For example, “Kids with Guns” seems like just another song from Gorillaz, but it’s really about child soldiers brainwashed and drugged by rebel armies in certain countries, and how they’re tearing people apart.
“O Green World” and “Feel Good Inc.” are two fascinating tracks that bring a dystopian narrative to the record. Both the sounds and the visual look of the inner album art and music videos bring a dark, grim look to these songs, which have lyrics about the destruction of populations and resisting authoritative power.
The album continues into tracks like “El Mañana,” “All Alone,” “DARE” and “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head” continue the story of dystopia, mainly telling tales about death, destruction and war. One of the strongest tracks on the entire album is the title track, which ends the album by saying even though times will always be tough, you’ll make it through and improve your life. It’s a truly remarkable and uplifting end to such a deep and dark record.
Demon Days is for sure the strongest record in the Gorillaz discography, having the band’s best written songs and most creative narrative structure to date. There’s no doubt that whatever Damon Albarn releases this year will be great, but there’s no way it can be better than Demon Days.