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Following a successful 2022 tour, the British band Gorillaz are back with their eighth studio album, “Cracker Island,” released Feb. 24. Since entering the music scene in 1998, English musician Damon Albarn and graphic artist Jamie Hewlett forged a unique identity and distinctive signature sound which skirts both rap and alternative rock. Among the first of its kind, this groundbreaking “virtual band” is composed of four fictional, animated members (2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle, and Russel Hobbs) each with their own elaborate backstories. On “Cracker Island,” the band showcases an — admittedly eclectic — bunch of collaborations featuring the likes of Bad Bunny, Tame Impala and Stevie Nicks. Yet, “Cracker Island” also manages to capture the psychedelic and indulgent weirdness Gorillaz fans love.
Released as the album’s leading single on June 22, 2022 and featuring American bassist and songwriter Thundercat, “Cracker Island” transports listeners to an uncanny paradise. The mysterious “forever cult” of this song’s music video serves to introduce the album’s storyline. While super-fans can obsess over the intricacies of the fandom lore, listeners do not need to be so well-versed to appreciate the creative musicality of the album.
With distorted vocals and dynamic electronic beats, standout single “Skinny Ape” is reminiscent of some of Gorillaz biggest hits like “Rhinestone Eyes” and “Clint Eastwood.” Beginning with a folksy guitar riff before layering synthesizer tracks on top, “Skinny Ape” feels simultaneously familiar — with distinct similarities to the 2010 album, “Plastic Beach” — but is different enough from past hits to be exciting. With each repetition of the chorus, the tempo and background music becomes more frenetic, culminating in an amalgamation of shrill voice effects and thrumming bass.
The album, and its overarching story comes to life through its collaborative tracks. In “Tormenta,” Bad Bunny warps the idea of a pristine island paradise, noting “the sun in the sky,” while in the background, “someone is crying,” creating a dissociation from the heavenly illusion. Later in the album, Gorillaz merges Tame Impala’s dreamy hypnoticism and rap interludes from Bootie Brown in the standout single “New Gold.” The single quickly became the breakout hit of the album, accumulating over 70 million streams on Spotify since its release on Aug. 31.
Perhaps most impressively, Gorillaz perfectly incorporates the style of legendary singer, songwriter, and producer Stevie Nicks on “Oil,” despite their vastly different bodies of work. The two artists’ vocals blend together with a resonant, echo-like effect so that neither dominates the track, but rather wafts in and out creating haunting harmonies.
Among the many star-studded collaborations, solo tracks such as “Baby Queen” and “The Tired Influencer” showcase Gorillaz’s creative experimentation and promise future innovation. Whether using samples of Siri to interact with the lyrical verses and bring to light a strangely nostalgic view of our technological age, or alluding to mythological stories about the figure Garuda, Gorillaz cultivates both a sense of obscurity and a peculiar depth of meaning. Both songs build a synthesized wall of sound, creating an experience for fans where new details emerge from the apparent chaos with every listen.
Ultimately, Gorillaz succeeds in presenting a collection of innovative choices and collaborations that align with previous fan-favorite motifs without feeling derivative. As the band enters a new era in their lore-building quest, “Cracker Island” is sure to be a fan-favorite pit-stop on the esoteric journey.
—Staff writer Katy E. Nairn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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