Plastic Beach seems to offer what the title implies: transparent garbage.
It’s the third studio album by Gorillaz, the world’s number-one animated band, and their first release since Demon Days. Considering the innovative ambition that went into their previous albums and Plastic Beach’s contributor list (including Mick Jones and Paul Simonon playing together for the first time since the Clash disbanded), this kind of wait builds up a lot of anticipation. Surely this was destined to be the group’s most creative and groundbreaking album yet, right? Well, no, not quite. Plastic Beach just doesn’t compare to Demon Days, getting about as creative as a ’90s lounge album.
Plastic Beach creates a picture of desolate humanity resulting from consumerism, waste, and destruction. Gorillaz falls into the concept album trap by becoming too self-involved: they’re so focused on electronic experimentation that the band seems to have forgotten that they are meant to be playing music to be listened to. With its excessive sound effects and consistently obnoxious bass line, Plastic Beach gets exhausting only a few tracks in. Even the few stand-out tracks (“Superfast Jellyfish” and “Some Kind of Nature” which features Lou Reed) fail to go anywhere. Ultimately, the album falls into a rut, accomplishing the exact opposite of its intention.
It is ironic that the opening track should reference the Planet of the Apes, because I’m sure it’s has many a Gorillaz fan quoting Captain Taylor, yelling “You damned dirty apes!”—Ariel Lewis
Ben Harper and Relentless7: Live from the Montreal International Jazz Festival
Ben Harper’s been committed to his new gig with Relentless7 for the last two years, and their performance at the Montreal International Jazz Festival marks Harper’s best attempt at imitating the hedonistic cock rock of his idols. The whole show is laden with bluesy slide guitar solos, funky grooves, and high-octane vocals. He even manages to throw in raunchy lyrics like, “I feel like an underpaid concubine who’s outstayed her welcome.”
The show is solid, but it’s not quite what I’d expect for a climax to the epic relationship between Harper and guitarist Jason Mozersky. Solos on songs like “Keep It Together” are long but never really compelling. Especially towards the end, Harper’s voice sounds strained and falls out of key.
To Harper’s credit, he refuses to play within his comfort zone. He pushes hard to distance himself from the soulful reggae and folk genres that brought him fame in the past. So for this album, I give him sincere respect.—Ben Nieuwland