Now on their eighth studio release with Cracker Island, the virtual four-piece – founded in 1998 by Albarn and James Hewlett to exist as cartoons – try a change in direction with an album made up of ten potential floorfillers. And, whereas star-studding has always been a hallmark of any Gorillaz record, the impression is that Albarn’s gold touch has been reversed, with only the guests managing to add some spark to tracks that could easily be demoted to tracklist filler without their contributions to elevate them. It takes Thundercat and Bad Bunny to make the title track and ‘Tormenta’, respectively, songs to come back to – the latter unimaginable without the Puerto Rican rapper and definitely making the closing trifecta with the following ‘Skinny Ape’ and ‘Possession Island’ (featuring Beck, a lovely clash of accents, and a Mariachi band) the peaks of the record.
Mind you, Cracker Island is not a bad album. It would be dishonest to deny the quality of the songwriting, the arrangements and the engineering. Yet very little remains behind the pleasant, polished sound this time. We are far from the complexity and panache of Demon Days. But, perhaps, a collection of bangers for blasting in the car with the windows down is all you need sometimes.
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