by Julia Sullivan
Gorillaz have a reputation of bending the rules of genre and sound within music, creating their own sound with their cult classic Gorillaz, and creating a critically acclaimed masterpiece Demon Days. The group is a self-proclaimed virtual band that is made up of cartoon character alter egos: singer 2D, bassist Murdoc Niccals, drummer Russel Hobbs, and guitarist Noodle. Their style and ideologies have always pushed the limits of recording, and at this point in their career they could do literally anything that they want – yet their newest album sounds surprisingly familiar. Cracker Island has an incredible list of features, including Tame Impala, Thundercat, Stevie Nicks, Bad Bunny, and more. Despite this showstopping lineup, each track sounds remarkably bland and almost like a tedious routine that Gorillaz have been chipping away at for years now.
Although the overall project was somewhat disappointing, there are some addictive tracks and tantalizing melodies that are typical of Gorillaz founder Damon Albarn. Although the mid-paced grooves and sneaky hip hop beats are predictable, they create a hypnotic trance-like feeling that speaks to the flawless production skills Gorillaz have been able to develop over the years. Standout track “Tormenta” featuring Bad Bunny uses bouncy synth sounds and Bad Bunny’s impeccable melodies to create a catchy track that will undoubtedly become a summer hit. Albarn did show some growth in songwriting and lyricism with the moody track “Skinny Ape,” opening with soft acoustic guitar fingerpicking, a style that is somewhat unfamiliar to Gorillaz. It does, of course, break into a synth-filled pop ballad, backed by a groovy drum line typical of Gorillaz, veering back into their routine sound.
The opening track “Cracker Island” is one of the best on the record, featuring Thundercat’s angelic background vocals and funky bassline. Unfortunately, his signature bass line is buried under a wall of disco guitar riffs and sticky synth sounds that take away its unique groove, a precursor to the rest of the album. The melody is still one of the catchiest on the record, and is sure to become an earworm after just one listen. One of the most anticipated tracks on the album was “New Gold,” featuring Tame Impala and the Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown, with a TikTok sound of the tracks intro going viral before its release. The Bootie Brown verses fit perfectly, providing clever lyricism and a refreshing rhythm of 90s hip hop on top of poppy drums and a gritty baseline. Tame Impala sounds remarkably unsurprising and almost like he has been a part of the Gorillaz for a decade He is a seemingly perfect fit to the group’s sound, but simultaneously provides nothing new or inspiring to the track.
Overall, the new album can be summed up as a project that sounds routine, produced by a group that has become dependable and trapped in a box of a sound and style that they created. Have the Gorillaz lost their creative flair that defined most of their early career? Will they venture out of the comfortable cage of mid-paced grooves and clean contemporary pop production that they seem to be stuck in? Only time (and maybe another album) will tell.