Twenty two years on from their self-titled debut, Gorillaz return with their collaboration-littered masterpiece called Cracker Island.
Racing through genres and packing in as many stellar voices as possible, Cracker Island sees the fictional band approach a more streamlined, pop soaked sound with a guest list that elevates their sound rather than diluting it.
With the seasoned Greg Kurstin (Sia, Lily Allen, Foo Fighters) at the helm, Cracker Island proves to be expertly produced – there’s not a note on here that doesn’t fit with the direction the band is going. The album gets out of the blocks with a title track bursting with synths and guitar (along with Thundercat’s signature bass), it’s an earworm in the very best sense of the word.
We then glide slickly into ‘Oil’, another synth effort. It’s hard to not acknowledge the way that Damon Albarn and Stevie Nicks’ vocals blend together seamlessly on this cut; a stark reminder that, whilst they are known for their louder, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink tracks, Gorillaz excel when things are stripped back to their core components.
‘The Tired Influencer’ and ‘Silent Running (feat. Adelye Omotayo)’ are critiques of our digital world, ironic as it may be coming from a band fronted by computer-rendered animations. The twin pieces are playful with their lyrics, with the latter confessing “I feel like I’ve been Silent Running (Silent Running) / Through the infinite pages I scroll”, evoking the trance-like state that we find ourselves in as we scroll endlessly, trying to find something better.
Cracker Island presses onwards to its strongest moments, bolstered by the electric thump of Tame Impala and Bootie Brown on ‘New Gold’, the unbridled euphoria of ‘Baby Queen’ and the quirky, disco-tinged ‘Tarantula’. Unlike some of their previous releases, production on their seventh album is consistent and considered, each track keeping to the eccentric, pop-laced rhythm of the album. Whilst it’s possible Albarn’s voice could have been lost within the shimmer of synths and instrumentals, the effort is balanced and Albarn’s vocals shine.
On an album that rarely strays from its palette of of sounds, reggae-influenced Bad Bunny collaboration ‘Tormenta’ is a diversion from the norm. So rich and sun-drenched that it’s hard to believe this album finds its way to us on a bleak February day and not at the height of summer.
Penultimate track ‘Skinny Ape’ is the standout of the album. At first a soft, introspective song which suddenly bursts into a high octane, pop/bass masterpiece you absolutely have to (and will) play at piercing volume.
Album closer ‘Possession Island (feat. Beck)’ is a gorgeous album finale. A soft, emotive piano track which showcases Albarn’s vocals and proves that, whilst it is an ambitious project, sometimes keeping things simple pays dividends.
Cracker Island joins the band’s catalogue seamlessly, and the creativity at the heart of this album isn’t lost against the glittering guest collaborations or criticisms of the world. It could have gone either way but, with their seventh effort, Gorillaz remain the exciting and unique music project that they have been since they emerged on the scene in the early 2000s.