The Judges Discuss: Gorillaz, “Plastic Beach”

Allan Jones: I’m told this is a work of genius... I must admit that it’s not a record I’ve particularly warmed to myself, or engaged with, but I’m open to being persuaded otherwise.

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Allan Jones: I’m told this is a work of genius… I must admit that it’s not a record I’ve particularly warmed to myself, or engaged with, but I’m open to being persuaded otherwise.

Tony Wadsworth: Well, I have been involved in a record company role with earlier Gorillaz albums, but I have to say that I think this one is bloody brilliant. I’m always ready to be disappointed with people I’ve worked with in the past – and very often am! – but I think this is a masterpiece, I think it’s really ambitious, really clever. It’s got a message, an environmental message that comes from the heart. And it’s eclectic like no other album on this list, with perhaps the exception of Paul Weller – actually it’s a lot more eclectic than Paul’s. It’s cinematic, like the Arcade Fire album, it’s got some amazing vocalists giving great performances, and it’s got some brilliant tunes. I just don’t think you can ask for more from an album.


Phil Manzanera: I’ve never been interested in the visual side of Gorillaz, I just listened to this as a record, and to me it’s got musicality, it’s got great pop melodies. It’s a fantastic collaborative work, how Damon Allbarn has managed to link all these strange people together and come up with something that’s quite new, really. I was pleased by its sonic ambition, every aspect of the playing on it is really, really good. On the minus side, I would say that it kind of peters out after a while, but that’s the only minus. Overall, I think it works really well.

Danny Kelly: I think it’s easy to be very cynical about Gorillaz, but it’s wrong to be cynical about them, because Damon Allbarn is a brilliant thing to have in the world. I don’t know if he’s a brilliant musician, but he’s a brilliant ringmaster. To bring all this stuff together in one place is fantastic. I didn’t like this as much as I liked Demon Days, and I wonder if that’s because it’s more of the same or if I think it’s possible to over-loaded with amazing stuff.

You’ve just got used to the fact that Damon’s got Mark E Smith to do his hilarious bit of “Glitter Freeze” – of all the words you might have got him to say, “which way is north?” is just brilliant, unbelievable – when Bobby Womack appears out of nowhere. I liked the record a great deal, I don’t quite love it, because I think it’s too tricksy in the end. But Damon is to be encouraged in all his endeavours, and if he doesn’t win today I want you, Allan, as the editor of Uncut, to write him a personal letter apologising for him not winning. People who liked the last album will like this one a lot. It’s a fine record, but it’s not the record of the year.


Hayden Thorpe: I’m definitely a child of Britpop, and Damon, Noel Gallagher and Jarvis Cocker were my early heroes, and out of those three Damon’s the one I really admire. He’s brushed himself down and survived it, and he’s not afraid of doing something different. He’s not stuck to character in the way the others maybe have. It’s great that he has clout, commercially and financially, to put together any kind of record he wants to do. I was really heartened that this is a commercial record but it’s not been dumbed down for anyone, which in itself must have been quite challenging.

Yes, it’s a cartoon band, but it’s larger than life in a great way, a great collage of sounds thrown together. Sometimes I struggle with how it hangs together because it’s such an amalgam on sounds, that would be my only criticism, but it definitely should be admired. I do like the way he allows his guests the freedom to be bigger extensions of themselves, which is a hard thing to do when you’ve got characters like Mark E Smith or Snopp Dogg.

Tony: Damon is the least cynical musician or frontperson that I’ve ever worked with. He lives and breathes his music, it’s very important to him.

Mark Cooper: Well, he’s Napoleon, isn’t he? I admire Damon enormously. I think a he’s difficult, obtuse, generous, mean, wonderful maverick. It’s great that somebody can make a journey with a four-piece band and then go on and transcend that. Having done so well with Blur, he’s asked himself how can he recreate a different universe, how can he be free? And I think there’s great freedom in this record.

Having said that, I get the impression that people here admire this record slightly more than they love it, which I think is interesting. Maybe because it’s two records, in a way; the hip-hop stylings are great, I think, really good fun, but I think what Damon does really, really well is write great melancholy ballads. Probably, sadly, it’s what the British have always been really good at, I think it’s one of our great exports. That’s what we sell: depression. I’m thinking in particular of “On Melancholy Hill” on this record, it’s from the same strand as the best songs he did with The Good, The Bad & The Queen, or Blur songs like “The Universal”. To me, it’s those type of songs here that dominate, because they’re where I hear Damon the most.

Allan: I know what you mean, they make me want to hear a whole album of that kind of thing, which I don’t think would be any less ambitious, but I would probably prefer it.

Mark: On the other hand, I like the sprawling, Napoleon-like aspects of the album, the way Damon brings all this elements together, I think there’s no greater track this year than “Stylo”. I think the way he slightly confused people at Glastonbury, and on this record, is that there’s arguably not enough to hang on to. It’s so diverse, it does loads of things and ultimately perhaps that’s where admire rather than love suggestion comes in to play. At the end of the day, this record should have seized the world’s imagination and I don’t think it has, I don’t think it’s captured a moment as strongly as Demon Days did.

Danny: I think maybe there’s too much possibility in this record, and maybe not enough delivery.

Allan: Yeah, it’s terrible in a way to criticise a record for its ambition, but maybe the problem is that it runs away with itself at times.

Mark: It’s fearless, though, and that’s what a lot of people will love about it.


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