Gorillaz Sound More Human and Less Animated on “Cracker Island”
March 7, 2023
Gorillaz finally returned with their much-anticipated eighth studio album, “Cracker Island.” This is the first major release for the band since their more unconventional 2020 record, “Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez.” “Song Machine” saw Damon Albarn and company experiment more with different production styles, genre-bending, and outside-the-box guests. This album was seen by many as one of their best yet with just how different it was, while also still being signature Gorillaz. All that to say, many fans were eager and hopeful for their return, myself included.
The first taste we got of “Cracker Island” was this past June with the release of the title track, which is also the album’s opener. This is one of the better songs on the record as it includes a guest appearance from Thundercat and has an overall funky edge.
The album continues on a hot-streak with my personal favorite song, “Oil.” This track bleeds classic Gorillaz with some great syncopated synth passages, Albarn’s crisp vocals, and a feature from Stevie Nicks, whose voice still sounds as smooth as when she was recording “Rumours.”
“The Tired Influencer” was one that grew on me after a few listens. At first I wrote it off as another “boomer” trying to connect with the younger generation. But after really diving deeper into the lyrics, I found there was an extra layer of intelligence that I had yet to hear in songs like this.
The beat is also one of the thickest sounding here and Albarn’s use of Siri as a sort of backup singer is kind of genius.
After the first three tracks, I think the songs get a bit lackluster. “Silent Running” is fun but I don’t think it has anything super unique about it.
“New Gold,” on the other hand, has a more interesting instrumental palette and the Tame Impala feature is infectious. The Bootie Brown feature seems too long-winded and the messaging comes off empty as a result.
Getting into the second half of the record, we continue down this path of formulaic synth-pop. “Baby Queen” and “Tarantula” always seem to blend together for me and not in a good way.
“Tarantula” is also the goofiest song here as the instrumental sounds like something out of “Mario Kart,” and from a mediocre race at best.
The biggest disappointment of this entire LP has to be “Tormenta” with Bad Bunny. Having the biggest Latin pop artist in the world on your song should result in greatness, right?
Instead we get a sleepy, lullaby-esque song, which is cute I guess, but when I’m used to Bad Bunny dropping songs like “Tití Me Preguntó” and “Moscow Mule,” I think you can understand why this song seems a bit understated.
The last two tracks are guilty of the same tropes that have plagued this LP since the end of the first half. “Skinny Ape” isn’t that bad but I think I’m caught up in how disingenuous it seems. This track is home to two big drops, or the penultimate climax, if you will.
I just don’t feel like they’re earned by the time we get there though, as Albarn doesn’t have the same emotion in his voice as he did on the first few tracks. The closer “Possession Island” seems like the band’s attempt at the most cliché send-off they could’ve written. With a half-hearted feature from Beck, this song is the equivalent of hitting snooze.
If I came off a bit harsh in this review, it’s only because I know Gorillaz are capable of so much more. And it’s not like anything here is downright bad, but after those first three tracks, nothing is able to exceed them.
This LP is full of great moments, but as a whole experience, it is definitely one of their most uneven and underwhelming.
My rating: 6.7/10