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Gorillaz - Cracker Island (Album Review)

Monday, 06 March 2023 Written by Jacob Brookman

At this point, Damon Albarn has likely had more airplay as the creator of Gorillaz than as the frontman of Blur. The use of the word ‘airplay’ is relevant because since Gorillaz’s debut album (‘Cracker Island’ is their eighth) the entire machinery of music listening has changed from physical to streaming. And this is relevant because to listeners of a certain vintage Gorillaz still feel somehow…new.

The album is excellent, professional pop music. It’s a softer, wiser record than its predecessor—2020’s ‘Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez’—with high calibre collabs that feel meritocratic, rather than click-chasing.

Tormentor (feat. Bad Bunny) is a standout: a sumptuous reggaeton toe-tapper that could be a Major Lazer cut but for its idiosyncratic Englishness.

The big single is New Gold (feat. Tame Impala and Bootie Brown). It's excellent, inoffensive pop music that could go on practically every genre of radio station in the United States, bar country. It's lovely but it’s not going to win any Grammy Awards...and then again, maybe it will.

The breakout star is Silent Running (feat. Adeleye Omotayo), a marvellous circular pop ballad with watery piano and crunchy drum loops. Albarn uses the Gorillaz platform as much for celebrating and promoting new talent as anything else, and Omotayo is an excellent case study in this. He offers a marvellous soulful counterpoint to Albarn’s cockney patter.

A few years ago, it was possible to see Albarn’s non-Blur career as similar to Paul Simon’s post-Garfunkel: a gentler, more cerebral pathway through middle age and reduced public relevance. But it's actually better than that. ‘Cracker Island’ is an album from a collective of musicians that is ravenously creative, thought-provoking and just plain fun. Gorillaz have sort of cracked pop music.


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