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Cracker Island doesn't break new ground, but it's the most consistent Gorillaz album in a decade

"Cracker Island"

Release date: 24 February 2023
Gorillaz - Cracker Island - Album Review
24 February 2023, 15:30 Written by Will Yarbrough

Whether it's a flying windmill or a plastic beach, everywhere that Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett have previously taken Gorillaz have looked and sounded like the future.

The big discovery on Cracker Island then, is how much it resembles someplace they've been before. The Now Now monkeyed around with 80s influences and fewer guests. That album went overlooked, though Gorillaz must not have noticed, because this one copies that template. Hewlett even draws from a similar palette, dunking everything from the exclusive vinyl to Noodle's hairdo in a vat of hot pink.

Nothing about Cracker Island feels recycled though. Sure, this is now the shortest Gorillaz album, but it's also the tightest. Albarn pulls from the same well of new wave nostalgia that's all the rage nowadays, but he spins those scratchy funk guitars, reverberated disco drums and pastel synth swells into fresh ear candy. No wonder the best songs feature Tame Impala and otherworldly bass from Thundercat.

It's always fun to see who pops up on a Gorillaz album, though count me among fans who wish Albarn wasn't so willing to take a backseat. "Tormenta" might be the most he's catered to a guest and Bootie Brown steals "New Gold" with bars about liposuction-loving grannies. But the guests on Cracker Island are here to play second fiddle. Even Stevie Nicks shares the stage as the eternal flame to Albarn's hopeless romantic.

Albarn spends his time alone on Cracker Island crooning for connection in a disconnected world. Nothing reaches the melancholic peaks of albums past. "Oil" brims with tenderness, but the lyrics are mush. Still, he often comes close. Who else could write such a lovely pop song about a tarantula?

As always, there's something lurking beneath the cartoon facade. Murdoc has tricked 2-D, Russ and Noodle into joining a Hollywood cult, which reads like a critique of social media and celebrity culture. "It's a cracked screen world," Albarn sighs on "The Tired Influencer," which features backing vocals from none other than Siri.

Cracker Island is best when you don't think about it too much. "Skinny Ape" is a lighthearted ode to an Amazon delivery drone that explodes like confetti and the album's parting words would sink into cheese if not for the outburst of mariachi. Gorillaz aren't so revolutionary anymore, but they've stayed relevant just by keeping with the times.

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