If you know me personally and know anything about my music tastes, you probably know how I feel about the Gorillaz. The Gorillaz has been one of my favorite music acts and pop-culture phenomenons for as long as I can remember. Everything about this virtual band is so exciting and unique. For one, it is awesome how the lore and backstories involving the bands’ virtual members are so intricate. The Gorillaz is made up of lead singer 2-D, lead guitarist Noodle, bassist Murdoch, and drummer/rapper Russel. The way these characters have developed over the years is awesome, and it has helped drive a massive amount of interest in the Gorillaz from music fans for a long time. 25 years after the group was created, these characters are still evolving rapidly and we learn more about them with each album cycle. It is also amazing how eclectic and genre-fluid they have been with their music throughout the years. There seem to be no boundaries on the kind of music the Gorillaz can make, and they draw from every musical influence imaginable(if you want to know more about the way I feel about the Gorillaz and learn more about the artist in general, search below for my full article about how much I love them after reading this). Following their acclaimed project Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez, Gorillaz is back after a quick turnaround with their latest record, Cracker Island. Over the last six years, the Gorillaz have been very prolific with their output without sacrificing quality, so we major fans of them have definitely been spoiled. With that being said, here is how I feel about the Gorillaz’s new album Cracker Island. Please let me know in the comments below how you feel about this record, and also comment on what your favorite songs from the album are.
The record starts with the title track, ‘Cracker Island,’ which features Thundercat. This one is one of my favorite songs from 2022, and it immediately got me very excited about this project. ‘Cracker Island’ has an extremely unique Neo-Funk sound that feels like it was made in the future. The riff of the song, mainly provided by the bassline, has a classic Disco-Funk sound that is so highly synthesized that it feels otherworldly. This bassline is complimented by an equally Funky Guitar riff that is equally synthesized and strange. This instrumental is so distorted that it almost feels like Tech-House music. I love the way that Thundercat’s vocals complement 2-D’s vocals. The higher tone that Thundercat has adds so much personality to the track considering how low and monotone 2-D is singing. In ‘Cracker Island,’ 2-D and Thundercat are singing about how The Gorillaz are diving into Dark Magic and joining a cult. ‘Oil,’ which features Stevie Nicks, seems to follow a theme that has been very popular in Pop music today. This track has a sound that makes me think of 80s New Wave music. It has a pleasurable yet also a foreboding melody that mainly comes by a bassline and a synthesized keyboard, with a faded guitar melody in the background. This melody has a feeling of being in the midst of good times yet knowing that something sinister is on the horizon. ‘Oil’ is a tamer of a song than the opening track. Apart from a pretty cool drum breakdown toward the end of the song, this song has a pretty calm and uneventful instrumental. As much as I love how Stevie Nicks’ vocals go with 2-D’s vocals, I do wish she would have shown off a bit more of her range. 2-D’s and Stevie Nicks’ tones are so comparable on this track that neither of them provides any extra textures to the song. On ‘Oil,’ 2-D and Stevie Nicks are singing about how the music they have created is transporting them to another world or dimension. ‘The Tired Influencer’ has a way more modern sound than the previous two tracks. The only way I can describe this song is that it is Reggae/Island Trap music. I would not call it Latin Trap, because it does not have a Reggaeton sound at all. Instead, it has a strictly Reggae and almost Calypso feeling. The melody sounds like something you would hear on a beach in the Caribbean. It has such a cozy and sweet feeling, and listening to this track in the winter in Wisconsin makes me imagine I am somewhere Tropical. I really enjoy the various sound effects in the background that add to the melody. The various chime sound and random spacious synths just give so much depth to the instrumental. 2-D’s breathy and airy vocals go perfectly with this instrumental. On ‘The Tired Influencer,’ 2-D is singing about how addicted he is to his phone as an influencer. His phone gives him everything, from his income to his literal identity.
‘Silent Running,’ which features Adeleye Omotayo, goes back to the Funky New Wave sound that we heard on ‘Oil.’ This song has a lot more a of bright and vibrant melody than the one on ‘Oil,’ though. This song has a sound that I could see tearing it up at a nightclub in the 1980s. The melody is so layered and intricate, as it has so many aspects. From the bassline to the keyboard riff to the guitar riff to the various synths and stray vocals that act as sound effects, every aspect of this instrumental complements itself greatly. One thing I enjoy a lot is the whistling that comes in and out of the melody; it just adds an extra, almost creepy aspect to the song and it sounds so cool. The way that Adeleye Omotayo’s husky, deep vocals go with 2’D’s lighter, breathy vocals is perfect. These two sound great together on this track. On ‘Silent Running,’ 2-D and Adeleye Omotayo are singing about being in love with something beautiful and toxic that is extremely captivating but also ruining you. ‘New Gold,’ which features Tame Impala and Bootie Brown, is the weirdest and most futuristic-sounding song since the first track. Even though it is nothing like their music of the past, this track makes me think of some of the Gorillaz early 2000s work because of how genre-bending it is. It is not easy to describe the sound that this song has; the best way I can describe it is that it is neo-psychedelic Funky Hip Hop. Similar to ‘Cracker Island,’ this track sounds so retro yet so innovative at the same time. This song has such a grand and intricate instrumental. It has a super funky bassline, multiple keyboard riffs, a super funky guitar riff, and various sound effects provided by synths and distorted vocals. Speaking of vocals, the vocal performances on this song are super interesting and stand out. Bootie Brown handles the rapping in this song, and Kevin Parker of Tame Impala handles most of the singing(with 2-D coming in at the end to help out on the bridge and the last chorus). All of the vocals on this track add to the ambiance and atmosphere of the track. ‘New Gold’ is about taking a new partner to Cracker Island, which is the place created by the occult practices of the Gorillaz. This place seems to be like a Sin City of sorts, full of excitement and lust. ‘Baby Queen’ takes it back to the retro New Wave Synth-Pop that we got earlier in the record. This is the slowest song on the project to this point(apart from maybe ‘The Tired Influencer,’ which still has a lot more energy than this one especially considering its pace); it has such a calm and warm feeling. The melody of this song is so heavenly and euphoric. The way the synths are arranged and the various sound effects make me feel like I am floating when i hear this track. 2-D’s vocal performance is subdued and low-key on this track, and it goes well with the instrumental. On ‘Baby Queen,’ 2-D is singing about a young Queen he met back in the 90s that he was fascinated with; he is dreaming of a world where they had re-connected as adults. I am not going to lie, I figured after ‘Baby Queen’ we would get a more chaotic and darker-sounding song, especially considering it is called ‘Tarantula.’ Instead, ‘Tarantula’ almost just feels like a faster version of ‘Baby Queen.’ It is a faster New Wave song with a melody that has an extremely similar tone to ‘Baby Queen.’ ‘Tarantula’ does have a more complicated and sophisticated instrumental than the preceding track. The bassline is prevalent and fun, and the melody is provided by a weirdly-tuned synthesized keyboard that almost sounds out of key. This melody is added to by various synths in the background. The vocal performance on ‘Tarantula’ is great. The vocals only consist of 2-D, and he shows off his range as a singer. The way the vocals are arranged gives so much excitement to the track. On ‘Tarantula,’ is singing about how his partner is all he needs and how this person can help save him from his depression.
‘Tormenta,’ which features Bad Bunny, brings a different, exotic element to the album that I think is needed. When any artist has a Bad Bunny feature, it is safe to assume that song will have some Latin Flair, and that assumption is correct with this track. As far as the melody goes, it is not too different than what we heard in the two preceding songs. ‘Tormenta’ also has a celestial feeling that is very pleasant. This melody is provided by a guitar and is complimented by backing vocals and various synths. The beat, which drives the song’s energy, has a Reggaeton feeling, with a couple of sections of the song having a faster pace that feels a bit like Latin House music. Bad Bunny handles the vocals in the verses of this track, with 2-D coming in for the chorus. I love how their voices go together, as the husky and harsh tone of Bad Bunny contrasts 2-D’s airy vocals so well. On this track, 2-D and Bad Bunny are singing about how they do not care about the impending doom in their world as long as they are with their partner. ‘Skinny Ape’ is a song that truly stands out among the rest of the album because of how dissimilar it is from the rest of the tracks. This song just stands out in general because of how strange it is. It is not super sophisticated or intricate, it is just not like anything I have heard many times before. The only way I can describe this track is that it is Neo-Country. The song starts with a twinkling Folk-Country sound driven by a guitar riff and eventually changes to having that same Country-style melody provided by distorted Synths. Various weird sound effects(like bells, chimes, and humming, for instance) give so much depth to the instrumental. About halfway through the song, the tempo picks up(there is a brief break in the back half of the song that is slower, but for the most part it keeps this faster pace). When the tempo picks up, it gives the song a Neo-Country Ska music sound. The only other artist I can think of who has made music like this is 100 gecs. The distortion picks up as the song progresses, making this bright and colorful melody feel more and more uncomfortable. The vocal performance on this track is pretty mundane besides for the chanting at the end. It doesn’t match the energy of the instrumental, which is possibly a good thing considering how overly chaotic the instrumental is. On ‘Skinny Ape,’ 2-D is singing about moving on from your past traumas and embracing the future, even if it feels uncertain. Cracker Island closes out with ‘Possession Island’ which features Beck. The influence of Beck in this track is highly noticeable from the production. This song has a very large and emphatic Latin-tinted(due to the horns at the way the guitar is played) Pop-Folk sound that has a somber, climactic feeling to it. The instrumental is driven by a beautiful, melancholy piano riff that is complimented by an assortment of synthesized string instruments. The tone and feel of this song are dark yet hopeful. The vocal performances of this song match this tone perfectly. Beck and 2-D add an extra layer to the heaviness ‘Possession Island’s’ instrumental already have. On ‘Possession Island,’ 2-D and Beck are singing about forgiving others and keeping people close because they do not want to traverse into the future alone. They believe they will be okay as long as they have their partner by their side.
The discourse online I have seen about the Gorillaz’s Cracker Island has been interesting to see. On one hand, there are a lot of people who are not into it. They do not think it is bad, they just feel that it is a little bland and calm compared to most of their other projects. On the other hand, though, there are a ton of people who love this record. Its sound feels immensely cohesive, and overall it creates a warm and serene aura that can put any listener in a peaceful state when they listen to it all the way through. I do sort of understand the argument from some people that Cracker Island is docile and straightforward compared to what most people would expect from the Gorillaz. Apart from a couple of songs, this album is not as genre-fluid and off-the-wall as one might expect their music to be. In my opinion, that is okay, though. Not every project has to be this massive example of genre-bending, mind-shattering music. It is completely okay to make albums that have a consistent tone and sound, especially when the record is full of quality versions of that music. Cracker Island does not compare with my absolute favorite records from The Gorillaz, but I still think it is super good. Listening to this album all the way through will put anyone in a positive and fun mood, and there are multiple songs from the record that I will be coming back to frequently for a long time.