Gorillaz – Cracker Island

Induced by vibey guitar riffs, drum patterns shifting the sonic palette, and melancholic vocals, Gorillaz has kept a consistent streak of musical creation. Weaving Alt-Rock and Art-Pop with Hip-Hop and Trip-Hop, Gorillaz has built a perforated platform where anything getting pushed gets skillfully integrated. Known for being features-heavy, Gorillaz contains an amassed grounding of quality solo tracks, further showing us an individualized identity beyond intricate conceptions with artists like Del The Funky Homosapian, Lou Reed, Popcaan, and Grace Jones, to name a few. Unfortunately, The Gorillaz albums have teetered between collecting features and displaying bravado in style, keeping you intrigued due to their seamless integration between artists and genres. Cracker Island isn’t as reliant on its features to bring a sense of originality while bridging pop and funk overtones, giving listeners more downbeat tones with luscious vibrancy seeping through a compact and focused album, even during its stumbles.

Though both sides of the aisle – songs with features, transitioning between each other when the artists aren’t in the same genre stratosphere – can be equally challenging. But what Gorillaz has been able to do with an abundance of features on their album is mesh artists from varying genres and bring seamless transitions between them. On Humanz, we heard them weave fantastic sequences, one of which contained tracks with Popcaan, De La Soul, Danny Brown, Kelala, and Grace Jones into this decadent bravado of electronica and funk. Cracker Island has that high coming in the beginning and end, invigorating the music you’ve heard and giving them dimensional wealth beneath the captivatingly vibey performances, especially at the end. Despite those highs, they dissipate shortly before circling back and giving listeners one of their better sequencing from tracks 4 to 8. The same goes for track 9 heading into track 10. These tracks are “The Tired Influencer” and “Skinny Ape,” respectively, and though the latter has some clean melodies, the synergy between the strings and synths isn’t exciting as a track like “Tarantula.”

These transient moments feel like they’re circumventing the nuances beneath its base core and letting it play out more straight instead of building something more profound. When you get to “The Tired Influencer” and “Skinny Ape,” you’re not so much vibing as you get tranced by its melodies and transitions, where they never feel that different from past songs. It can get said about its use of simple synth structures, but it isn’t make or break for these songs that incorporate them, like the title track or “Tarantula” and “Baby Queen.” They follow tightly woven threads, beautifully guiding the synths to bring extra layers to the instrumentations. They have a rich depth, where the strings and synths create these tantalizingly sing-worthy moments that derive from slower-tempo productions. “Cracker Island” does so similarly, except with more basslines bolstering some of its funkadelic elements. 

“Tarantula,” similar to “Silent Running” and “New Gold,” epitomizes the album as this moment where we’re back to a balance between features and solos. They get bolstered by how they get incorporated, whether it’s more dueting and harmonizations from its featured artists or giving a full-fledged solo performance. Damon Albarn’s writing of these songs’ melodic structure lifts them towards foundational palettes; the sounds stay modestly shifty while retaining sonic motifs with its synthesizer and gear-churning percussion, evident with the disco-funk influenced “New Gold.” “Oil” and “Silent Running” are other unforgettable highlights which pave a clear path with its production.

Though what makes Cracker Island a fantastic visit is the visceral consistency of its features. From Stevie Nicks to Bootie Brown, Tame Impala, and Bad Bunny, they bring this audio/visual parallel boasting how these songs should make you feel. As I’ve previously mentioned, Gorillaz has a vibey depth. It can sometimes be a detriment as it takes you away from the quality of the music, making you love something that hits certain sections of the brain that keeps songs stuck in your head. The Bad Bunny feature sees The Gorillaz beautifully assimilating to the reggaeton sound, creating this tropical breeze that hits you like you’re kicking back with a brewski on the sand, the waves crashing with your feet, and the brisk calmness hits like the middle of a fantastic day. The same goes for “Oil” and “Silent Running,” which eloquently unites the vocals of Stevie Nicks and Adeleye Omatayo with Damon Albarn’s, creating this hypnotic synchronization that will keep these songs on heavy rotation. Frankly, one can say the same for the varying instrumentations which bring forth decadent sets of synths overlaying smooth instrumental layering, like on “New Gold” or the excellent solo track “Baby Queen.” 

Cracker Island is a vibrant orchestration of sounds that levels the varying sonic styles we’ve heard throughout the years. It doesn’t truly aim for all the glitz and glamour, reminding us more of earlier Gorillaz, stripped down and direct, while showing a sense of growth as they assimilate naturally to ever-shifting sonic palettes. I can’t help but get their reggaeton song with Bad Bunny out of my head, like most of the album, which I hope does similarly with you. You get entranced from beginning to end by the synergy created between vocals and instrumentations, and maybe you’ll let the lesser tracks come and go without a blink.

Rating: 8 out of 10.