'Cracker Island' Makes the Case for Gorillaz Being Damon Albarn's Quintessential Project

BY Alex HudsonPublished Feb 24, 2023

The best Gorillaz albums play out a bit like mixtapes, with leader Damon Albarn's pop-rock Blur-isms going toe-to-toe with an ever-shifting collage of rap verses, interludes and eclectic genre dabbling. Cracker Island, on the other hand, is the project's most streamlined pop LP yet, with a tight 10 tracks that recall a more fully realized version of 2018's Albarn-centric tour album The Now Now.

Cracker Island is themed around a cult run by fictional Gorillaz bassist Murdoc — but, truthfully, listeners are unlikely to follow any sort of storyline past the digi-funk of the title track, which features Thundercat's falsetto refrain of "forever cult."

This opening track sets the tone for an album in which guests typically play a supporting role on fairly straightforward pop songs, rather than being the main attraction. Fleetwood Mac legend Stevie Nicks appears on the chugging "Oil" — but unlike, say Lou Reed's star moment on 2010's Plastic Beach, Nicks acts a backing singer, her witchy drama given a robo makeover during the layered chorus harmonies. Beck is similarly downplayed on the closing ballad "Possession Island," as he croons some call-and-response backup vocals. The Latin pop of "Tormenta," led by Bad Bunny, is the album's only real curveball.

Cracker Island is the most focused and least eclectic instalment in the band's discography — and for that reason, it absolutely breezes by. Studio wizard Greg Kurstin's lush production sounds gorgeous on "Skinny Ape," its sleepily swaggering bass grooves exploding into Street Fighter-style double time in the back half, while Tame Impala's Kevin Parker sings his best chorus since Currents on "New Gold." The latter cut is Cracker Island's most quintessentially Gorillaz-y track thanks to a guest verse from Bootie Brown (who notably rapped on 2005's "Dirty Harry").

The only thing missing from Cracker Island is a truly classic single — something to compete with "Clint Eastwood," "Feel Good Inc." or "On Melancholy Hill" as an all-timer the band's catalogue. But even without that, it's a sleek, streamlined album that makes a case for the band's enduring relevance as genre-mashing trailblazers, even besting Blur as Albarn's ultimate contribution to the pop pantheon.

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