Album review: Gorillaz’s ‘Cracker Island’

By: Bijou Kruszka

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On February 24, 2023, Gorillaz released their newest album, ‘Cracker Island’. For those unfamiliar, Gorillaz is a virtual band created by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett. The fictional cartoon members are lead singer 2-D, bassist Murdoc Niccals,
drummer Russell Hobbs, and guitarist Noodle. They are known
for their genre-breaking music and iconic animated videos. Now,
with the release of ‘Cracker Island’, they’re back in the spotlight.

As a whole, the album is decent. On a first listen, all the songs seem to blend together, with a very similar lo-fi hip-hop sound with a slightly dance-y twist to every song. However, they make it work. As the saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and the chill, pleasant sound of the album is far from ‘broke.’ The songs are far from bad and some are even highlights of the Gorillaz discography. But when considering their past albums like ‘Plastic Beach’ and ‘Demon Days’, ‘Cracker Island’ fades in comparison.

Released a few months previously as a single, “Cracker Island” is the title track and first song of the album. Listening to the album as a whole, this one certainly stands out. While most of the songs in the album could be described as lo-fi hip hop with lyrics, “Cracker Island” is heavily contrasting with its electronic dance sound. The song is impossible not to dance to, and the bizarre lyrics and Thundercat’s vocal contributions to the song elevate what would have been a relatively basic dance track.

The other singles released pre-album range in quality. “New Gold” featuring artists Tame Impala and Bootie Brown, is a fantastic track. Combining dreamy, almost ethereal vocals with cleverly rapped rhymes and a fabulous rhythm, this track stands out from the rest of the album. “Silent Running” features excellent vocals from both Albarn and Adeleye Omotayo, and the beat is uniquely fun. However, both “Baby Queen” and “Skinny Ape” are relatively forgettable. Sure, they’re pleasant, but they feel much too slow, and don’t do anything super original. They seem to serve as filler tracks, which makes it bizarre that they were released as singles.

This album also heavily relies on featured guests. As mentioned before, Tame Impala, Bootie Brown, Adeleye Omotayo and Thundercat all added interesting elements to their tracks. However, this is not always the case. The song “Oil” features Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks, and that’s the only interesting thing that could be said about it. Nicks’s vocals are good, as usual, but don’t do anything special to the track. Neither the instrumentation or the lyrics are particularly interesting either. Singer Beck can be found on the final track of the album “Possession Island,” but his musical stylings are too similar to Albarn’s to make him a noticeable appearance. Alternatively, Bad Bunny’s appearance is incredibly significant on “Tormenta,” with his Spanish lyrics elevating the bossa nova-style track, and adding a level of uniqueness to the song not found in the other tracks.

There are only two songs not released as singles, or featuring another artist, “Tarantula” and “The Tired Influencer.” Both are unremarkable, and when first listening to them, I wanted them to be over much sooner than they were. “The Tired Influencer” was particularly mediocre. While the music was standardly pleasant, the lyrical commentary on social media was, as the title would suggest, tired.

‘Cracker Island’ continues the Gorillaz trademark of animated music videos. However, they’ve transferred their style from 2 dimensional cartoons to 3 dimensional models. While it is an interesting artistic choice, it feels less authentic than the 2-D. After all, the lead singer is named 2-D, so to move to 3-D feels odd. The music videos are also significantly harder to follow. While the story was somewhat ambiguous in albums past, it was relatively followable. Meanwhile, ‘Cracker Island’ is heavily centered on lore and plot, which is hard to convey in a music video.

Overall, ‘Cracker Island’ is good but not great. The songs are okay without being spectacular, and the stand-out tracks are only unique due to their featured guest artists. The music videos leave a lot to be desired. In comparison to Gorillaz’s past albums, ‘Cracker Island’ is simply average: pleasant but unmemorable.

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