Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Gorillaz: Plastic Beach
"With great hooks come great responsibility" -Me
When you are Damon Albarn and you have catchy riffs coming out your ears, you need to show a little prudence and make your listeners work for the hook. Ask for their patience, with the assurance that what is coming will be worth the wait. The problem with Gorillaz 3rd studio album Plastic Beach is that nearly everything sounds like a chorus. And when there's no distinction, no bridge, no lull, things get boring. Too many songs fail to build to anything significant, instead feeling like a stew of interesting ideas that fetter out and are simply repeated until the song reaches 3 minutes.
Take, for example, lead single 'Stylo" that I've embedded above. It opens with a wicked synth line and an effective verse from Mos Def, followed by Albarn's vocals and a soulful chorus (or is it?) by Bobby Womack. That brings us to about 2:30. Then what happens? The song virtually repeats itself word-for-word. Bobby Womacks chorus, Albarn's vocals, and Mos Def's verse VERBATIM. In what world is it ok to repeat a rap verse twice in the same song and get away with it? I don't care how catchy everything else is, I don't care how many different ideas are crammed into the track, it's just unacceptable. This isn't unique to this album, heck, Feel Good Inc. followed the exact same formula, repeating verses and choruses until you can't tell the difference and in my opinion distracted from the innovation therein.
Far too many songs on Plastic Beach fall into this trap, and it's a shame because the songs that actually follow a traditional VERSE/CHORUS/VERSE/CHORUS format are really great. Even the most frustrating songs are frustrating because they contain great ideas that are stifled and wasted. I'm not being pretentious here, I love a great pop song as much as the next person, but if you're going to try and get away with repeating parts of a song that aren't the chorus ad nauseum, the song needs to be FAST (See: ANY LADY GAGA SONG). It's easy to cover your flaws this way. Think of it like mooning someone in a rocketship or mooning them in a horse-drawn carriage.
As I alluded to earlier, some songs are able to rise above this mediocrity. 'On Melancholy Hill' is beautiful and focused, 'White Flag' uses verses from Bashy and Kano effectively (and only once!), and 'Some Kind of Nature' is worthy of Lou Reed's participation. But for every one of these, there is a song like 'Sweepstakes' that takes something potentially catchy and drives it so thoroughly into the ground that by the end you wonder how you ever liked it.