Cracker Island

by Gorillaz

So you’re in a band, and it blows up, becoming hugely successful, with multi-million album sales, sold out world tours, and a mint in merchandising.

Life is bliss.

But then, you kind of get a bit bored with it all, and you find yourself wanting to express your creativity through another outlet.

Hello side project.

The side project has probably saved many a band, as it allows its members to go off and let off musical steam as it were, away from what is expected of them in their bread and butter band.

Britpopsters Blur have well and truly done it all and seen it all during their long reign in the charts since their inception back in 1988 with their debut album Leisure in 1991.

boom - Gorillaz cracker island

It was after their sixth studio album however, 1999’S 13 that they all decided to have a break and go off exploring other projects. This lead the band’s frontman Damon Albarn to partner with British artist Jamie Hewlett, who came up with a concept of a virtual band after watching MTV together. And so Gorillaz was born.

Their debut eponymous album was released in 2001, and who would have thought then that they would still be around 20 odd years later, with them releasing this their eighth studio album, which incidentally is the same number that Blur have released to date, so not bad at all for a side project.

Kicking off proceedings is the title track 'Cracker Island', featuring as it does Thundercat. It’s a groovy little number, that represents elements of disco littered throughout the entire album, with Albarn in laid back style in his Stuart Harold “2D” Pot incarnation and makes for the perfect single release, serving as a good indication of what to expect.

There’s a pleasing melancholy to 'Oil', which features the very recognisable vocals of Stevie Nicks of The Fleetwood Mac fame. It’s the type of track, with its hypnotic landscape, that would make for a wicked soundtrack to a sexy sci-fi flick. And certainly the addition of Nicks gives that extra quality, who still sounds great.

‘The Tired Influencer’ finds Albarn almost horizontal in his vocal arrangement, which may have something to do with his phrasing of ‘Influencer’ coming across more as ‘influenza’, which would possibly be a very different track. That said, its relaxed beats would probably still make sense.

For anyone unaware, there was a fantastic film released in 1972 called Silent Running, that saw Bruce Dern alone on a space ship with three very helpful robots, Huey, Dewey and Louie. It’s a beautiful film, and although not necessarily related to it, this track of the same name, which feels like it would be right at home floating in the vastness of space, features Albarn pining “Searching for a new world, waits on the sunrise”. But maybe he does have those three cute bots for company, here’s hoping.

Bringing us firmly back to Earth is the single 'New Gold', featuring Tame Impala and Bootie Brown. It’s a groovy rap, which doesn’t feature Albarn, thankfully. It’s catchy, but lacks a little impact.

boom reviews Gorillaz cracker island

Albarn returns with his lackadaisical vocals for 'Baby Queen'. Again, another slower number, that although pleasant, it does slip into the background after a while.

If you have a phobia of spiders, best cover your ears now with the arrival of 'Tarantula'. A little more up tempo than everything preceding it, but again, struggles to have much of anything to say. The drum machine is on, and it’s all a little

Hitting us straight between the eyes next is Bad Bunny with 'Tormenta'. The Puerto Rican rapper (who is actually Benito Antonio Martinez Ocaslo) brings a little sophistication with his Spanish lyrics, and gentle, lilting beach groove, just as the fading light turns to night.

There’s a curious aggressiveness to 'Skinny Ape', with a rhythm that struggles to be anything near coherent. It’s a little ploddy, and interesting for it, but an odd choice for a single. It’s the kind of track that you could imagine they play at the end of the night, to act as sonic notice it’s time to go home. And it nearly is too.

boom reviews gorillaz cracker island

It is now, with the appearance of 'Possession Island', which is a closing lullaby, featuring the backing vocals of Beck. Unfortunately, his inclusion isn’t very discernible, and really could be anybody. It’s a lovely farewell though, especially when the horns kick in at the end, before the sun finally sets.

And there you have it ladies and gents, the eighth studio album from the music collective known as Gorillaz.

Perhaps there’s a clue there as to the take out from it, as it does sound very, very safe. There was an enjoyable edge to their first release, which is understandable as they formed 25 years ago now.

And if you were kind you would say their music has matured, but the truth is, it all feels disappointingly run of the mill. But despite his baby face, Albarn himself is 54, so what anger there was towards the music industry and society at the time has long since dissipated, and as you would expect, cosy conformity has taken its place.

If you’re expecting an album that challenges your musical sensibilities, this ain’t it. But if you want to pop something on in the background whilst your having your terribly grown up dinner party (shame on you), then this will serve that purpose perfectly.

At least we know the answer to that burning question: yes, even virtual bands fronted by animated characters get middle aged.

three out of five