Parlophone and Warner Records
The cartoon band Gorillaz takes a step off the gas pedal of its typically energetic sound and cruises toward a more laid-back direction with its 8th album, “Cracker Island.”
The band is a collaboration between Blur frontman Damon Albarn and comic artist Jamie Hewlett. The two created a fictional band whose lineup consists of 2-D, Murdoc, Noodle, Russel and a whole slew of various musical guests that shape the Gorillaz canon.
Because of the band’s fictional nature, it has not been limited to one specific genre. The band is an outlet for Albarn to experiment in genres outside of the alt-rock and Britpop he became known for. Gorillaz mixes pop, hip-hop, dub, funk and indietronica. The band exists almost as a love letter to music in all its variety and excitement. The group has seen massive critical and commercial success throughout the 2000s, but the most recent albums haven’t lived up to the massive successes of the past.
“Cracker Island” is a cool continuation of the band’s current work. “Song Machine” (2020) had a great mix of dancy beats and stylish hooks, and it’s more of the same on this record. The biggest problem that has plagued previous Gorillaz albums is the features. With albums like “Humanz” (2017) or “Song Machine,” the features can absorb so much of the album that it doesn’t feel like a Gorillaz album: it feels more like a collab album of the most noteworthy artists of their time. Or like “The Now Now” (2018), which significantly lacks features to create an individual Gorillaz sound and leaves the listener wanting something more. Luckily, “Cracker Island” does a great job at finding the balance between Gorillaz and other artists.
The title track lets Thundercat shine while also being a representation of Albarn’s supreme ability to write catchy songs. “New Gold” does a great job of blending the psychedelic sound of Tame Impala and the smooth-like-molasses flow of Bootie Brown. “Tormenta” is Gorillaz’s first reggaeton song, and it sounds like it was made specifically for Bad Bunny to dominate. However, “Oil” sounds like Stevie Nicks is hiding from the listener and “Possession Island” has Beck relegated to background vocals. “The Tired Influencer” uses Siri on the background vocals, coming off as late to the punch (10 years ago there were movies about falling in love with Siri, now they’re just in the background).
The songs that don’t feature any artists besides Gorillaz are much better than they have been in previous years. “Tarantula” is a beautiful track that plays into Gorillaz’s strength of ear-wormy beats and stunning vocal crooning. “Skinny Ape” is very upfront about 2-Ds emotions as well as bringing some much-needed energy halfway through the track.
This is the most personal a Gorillaz album has ever felt. There is some social commentary about social media stan culture, but the band seems more preoccupied with trying to curate a vibe than having something to say. Most of the songs deal with 2-D and Albarn’s introspective sides as they try to find the balance between their past and future legacies. The biggest influence on this album is dreams. Songs are directly inspired by dreams or are produced to have a more surreal atmosphere attached to them. This album walks the razor’s edge between fantastical whimsy and Gorillaz-type-beats to study and relax too.
As a whole, this album is just more Gorillaz. Gorillaz has been making similar music for the past six years, but nothing has crept out of the shadow of the band’s 2010’s career. “Cracker Island” feels like Gorillaz is correcting course as it sets off in a new direction, so indie playlists and alternative radio stations can rejoice at this new album for now. However, anticipating what happens next is far more exciting than a good portion of the songs here.