From the ashes of the Gorillaz project, Carousel springs Plastic Beach, the animated group's third album. They originally planned to focus on mystical Britain and emphasise melancholy as the main themes, but the end result according to co-creator Damon Albarn is what he considers to be the most stereotypically pop record he's ever made. The songs are full of depth and were recorded by a cast of thousands, including Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Mark E. Smith, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, to name a few.
For a band that was originally a side project, this fictitious group has produced some very real pop, with Plastic Beach being the equivalent of 16 mini-stories. The music is - as might be expected from their previous work - a veritable mish-mash that at times seems like a haphazard set of disparate elements that somehow combine to provide one funky groove.
'Orchestral Intro' opens with some serene keys and conjures up the image of an immaculately peaceful and deserted coastline. But this is all shook up in 'Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach', where Snoop Dogg greets everyone with some space-age synthesiser, reminding us there is definitely water - and perhaps even a beach - in space.
This record is very busy with pure pop sounds, from strings and bongos bolstering rap music ('White Flag') to mini-adverts and jingles à la The Who Sell Out ('Superfast Jellyfish'), and subsequently to ripples in the water drenching things in dreamy technicolour ('Empire Ants'). But the epitome of this musical purity is perhaps 'On Melancholy Hill' due to its quaint catchiness and the fact it immediately endears itself to you like one of the better songs produced in the 80s.
Plastic Beach may see some listeners floundering with the depth of music on offer. Fans may question whether to let these 16 tunes sink in or whether they should swim (dance) along with the high tide. There is no denying that at times it will take you on a journey to a pleasing, mellow beach and at others will play host to prolix rappers and musicians with social consciences who will grab you by the collar, enlighten you, and simply demand you listen to their synth-driven beats. But after all, this just seems like a normal day's work for the extremely talented Albarn and Co.