Cracker Island

The eighth studio album from the animated band known as Gorillaz is a pretty thrilling return to form. While their previous effort known as Song Machine: Season One was bit of a bloated collection that hit as often as it missed, Cracker Island wears its influences proudly across multiple genres, and might be their most cohesive album to date. At ten tracks and a running time of under 38 minutes, you can put Cracker Island on when you need a reprieve from the noise of the outside world. The set was produced by Greg Kurstin (Beck, Foo Fighters) at his own studio in Los Angeles, California, and he does a great job in honing in on this band’s strengths. Mainly from the mind of permanent collaborator/lead singer, Damon Albarn, Gorillaz find a nice groove within these Latin-infused beats and crisp production to engulf the listener into a world of pure imagination.

Kicking things off with the title track, a trippy, synth-driven song clouded in mystery about the world you’re about to embark unto, Gorillaz capture the spirit of their early, bulletproof work into a solid re-introduction. The opening lyrics of, “On Cracker Island, it was born / To the collective of the dawn / They were planting seeds at night / To grow a made-up paradise / Where the truth was auto-tuned (Forever cult) / And its sadness I consumed (Forever cult) / Into my formats every day (Forever cult),” are paired with complex beats in the background to keep things interesting from the get-go. “Oil” features a nice cameo by Stevie Nicks, and has a great, pulsating bass line to set the stage for Albarn’s vocal croon. It’s a very 80’s, new wave type of song that takes me back to the days of the Walkman and bright clothing choices. Nicks’ contribution is small, but necessary, as she adds just the right type of mystique to the song.

”The Tired Influencer” is another song that has a Latin/island-infused feeling to it, and I found the second verse of, “‘It was a different time’ / I hear that a lot up in the hills / Logic kills on Silver Lake reflections / Just trying to keep my head up / But nothing real anymore / In the world of the tired influencer,” to be a tragic look at how society tends to view our world through our connection to our phones. Gorillaz recognize this aspect of society, and yet take it all in stride as they take the listener on a fantastic escape. “Silent Running” follows with some more synth-driven, 80’s swagger to it, that would make even Tears For Fears jealous that they didn’t pen it. It features a solid collaboration from Adeleye Omotayo, whose voice fills in the void between the verses and choruses with veteran ease.

”New Gold” starts off with a keyboard type of horn/siren sound before breaking away for a well-rapped verse from Bootie Brown. It also features a cameo from Tame Impala, and it suits that artist well in this type of musical landscape. “Baby Queen” is the only song I didn’t immediately love, but on repeat spins it does showcase some intricate song structures to fit well within this world Gorillaz has created on Cracker Island.

The true gem in this set comes on the back half with a song called “Tarantula.” If you’re skeptical of diving into this record, I’d highly recommend starting here to see if you can groove with the vibes being put out. It’s truly a majestic song that really unfolds beautifully into the chorus of, “I know I fantasize / Although I don’t even mind / If you’re good for me / Then I’m good for you / And that’s all I need / In my life.” Its crisp pop production from Kurstin really makes songs like this shine like a well-cut diamond.

”Tormenta” features the most played artist in the world, Bad Bunny, and fits well into the Latin-flavored influences Gorillaz wear proudly on their sleeves on this album. “Skinny Ape” opens with some casually strummed acoustic guitar, but that quickly evaporates back into the heavy synths that feed into Gorillaz comfort zone. “Possession Island” follows a similar path by starting off with a dreamy opening verse, before eventually breaking away into some horns and other instruments to make a memorable leap of faith to the finish line. The song features a collaboration from Beck, and the song serves its purpose by navigating the listener to end of the LP.

As much as I thought going into this album it was going to be another retread of Gorillaz’ sound, I came away pretty impressed with the overall execution of everything falling into just the right place. The collaborations all fit well within this world of Cracker Island, and since this artist have never shied away from outside minds/voices, each of the A-lister cameos come across as adding more flavor to this recipe. There’s plenty to unpack and enjoy on this latest effort that will likely stay in my album rotation for the foreseeable future.