Gorillaz falls back on decades-old motifs on ‘Cracker Island’, all while redefining contemporary pop


Beneath the veneer of a motley crew of virtual characters, Damon Albarn has been on a decades-long quest to unearth the intersection between music and technology. And even after commandeering the Gorillaz voyage for well over two decades, Albarn’s dedication to pushing the envelope on Gorillaz’s musicality remains unfaltering. 


From the miscellany of alternative rock, punk, pop and rap that defined and established the band’s signature sound, Albarn chose to press on with the Gorillaz hallmark of absurd experimentation as the years passed. Cue the band’s post-2017 style: a smorgasbord of art pop (Humanz in 2017), laidback lo-fi (The Now-Now in 2018) and unusual structures and instrumentation (Song Machine: Series One in 2020). As a band of cartoons and pixels, Albarn has always known and taken advantage of Gorillaz’s endless possibilities. 


Instead of charting new territory—as the band usually does—Albarn allows Cracker Island to fall back on old Gorillaz motifs of striking guest artists, dub and his own behemothic, melancholic vocal inclinations. It’s a double-edged sword: this familiar, maybe even increasingly banal Albarn touch to the latest Gorillaz record feels like a warm embrace for fans who find comfort in it, but a stroke of monotony for casual listeners. 


There are moments on the album where brilliance shines through: ‘Silent Running’, which features Adeleye Omotayo, a long-standing member of Gorillaz’s Humanz choir, is perhaps one of (if not) the best-written songs from Albarn in recent memory, backed by both Albarn and Omotayo’s incredibly balanced vocal performances. Omotayo adds a transcendental, ominous silhouette that perfectly synchronises with Albarn’s blues. 


‘Tarantula’—a disco-leaning, buzzy B-side chronicling the aftermath of cynicism—is a nice, groovy entry against a backdrop of mellow, if otherwise forgettable, tracks. ‘The Tired Influencer’, on the other hand, is perhaps Cracker Island’s most thematically lucid song, despite toeing the line between poignant and uninflected. On this unassuming introspective number, Albarn croons despairingly of a “cracked screen world”, where the titular “influencers” of Cracker Island’s stratosphere are artists, visionaries and creators. 



In usual Gorillaz fashion, Albarn’s enlistment of several music industry greats on this guest list is impeccable. On ‘Oil’—another contender for best track on the album—the signature rasp of Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks adds a necessary texture to the song’s overall sheen, while Bad Bunny’s appearance on the bittersweet ‘Tormenta’ provides a brief moment of reggaeton-induced respite. Tame Impala’s involvement in Cracker Island with ‘New Gold’ (alongside the Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown) is perhaps the most prolific: in some of the band’s best work to date, Kevin Parker adds a drowsy flair to an otherwise rap-heavy number. Even Cracker Island’s title track, assisted by alternative R&B multihyphenate Thundercat, is well deserving of the lead single title with its maximalist, electronic-focused stylisations. 


Few acts have prevailed in terms of longevity as Gorillaz have—owe it to Albarn’s ingenious foresight and his dauntlessness in pursuing new sonic ground, all while cleverly retaining the aspects of this virtual band everyone loves. There is no way the music scene and its demands have plateaued over the course of 20 years. With Gorillaz and Albarn at the forefront consistently defining the present and sculpting the future, it seems Gorillaz’s journey to becoming continuous progenitors of the ever-evolving contemporary pop project is far from its conclusion. 


Farrago's magazine cover - Edition One 2024


It’s 2012 and you have just opened Tumblr. A photo pops up of MGMT in skinny jeans, teashade sunglasses and mismatching blazers that are reminiscent of carpets and ‘60s curtains. Alexa Chung and Alex Turner have just broken up. His love letter has been leaked and Tumblr is raving about it—”my mouth hasn’t shut up about you since you kissed it.” Poetry at its peak: romance is alive.

Read online