“Cracker Island” – Gorillaz Review
Written by wmscweb on March 11, 2023
By Chaz Campbell
I’d like to consider myself a huge Gorillaz fan. I’ve seen them live twice (“Humanz” and “Now Now” Tours), own almost every album on vinyl, and have them in the top five of every Spotify Wrapped ever since I started using Spotify in 2019. I have t-shirts, and ringtones, and I briefly considered getting a tattoo of one of the single covers for one of my favorite songs of theirs, “Empire Ants.” (Mom and dad if you’re reading this, could you ignore the last sentence? Please and thank you.)
For transparency’s sake, I am an incredibly biased person to write this album review for their new album, Cracker Island. When I heard they were collaborating with Stevie Nicks of all people, I knew I needed this album more than I needed oxygen.
I heard the first single, “Cracker Island,” and I was hyped for it. For the sake of disclosure: I missed their previous singles outside of the eponymous track purely to make Cracker Island a surprise then they kept on releasing song after song from the album… And it kind of fell apart from there.
Speaking of surprises… we can’t really talk about the album without noting how intense the marketing and novelties are. I’ve seen the fictional bassist Murdoc Niccals everywhere on YouTube. Like… everywhere. The animation for the model is well done, relatively speaking. We’re going to gloss over their TikTok because I do not use the platform but I am aware a TikTok of theirs featured a stolen fan art work of Del The Funky Homosapian- Don’t use things without credit. Also, TikTok pretty much soaked up all of the lore, so much so that I have no the time to go over that. All you need to know is it’s about cults. But it feels shallow, and we haven’t even covered the novelties yet.
When I mean novelties, I mean how intense the pushing of album/merchandise is. There are more versions of this single vinyl album available for purchase then there are planets in our solar system. Vinyl records have an incredibly high carbon footprint, ironically something touched on in their 2010 project Plastic Beach. A lot of their merch options cost more than a monthly student loan payment…
But you didn’t come here for a rant about late stage capitalism, you came here to see if I liked the virtual band’s latest work.
And just to make it even easier for myself, I’ll be going song by song (the deluxe version).
“Cracker Island” — So, so, so good! The bouncy rhythm coupled with that incredible bass is so addictive. I listened to this a LOT over the summer when it was a single. It was the song that really gave me hope for the album. Also that music video? With that animation? Excellent. Thundercat’s accompaniment adds a haunting tone that contributes to its Summer-y feel. A lot of the album captures a sort of West Coast vibe, which is the aesthetic they’re opting for in this effort. Thundercat’s contribution brings the track to such grand and incredible heights. 10/10.
“Oil” — The Summer-y feel continues in this track with a nice guitar and drum machine flowing into Damon Albarn’s vocals. This feels like something I’d hear while at an H&M… I compulsively started folding clothes, so this one goes out to any store manager in the nearest five mile radius. For Gorillaz, I like their cooler and chiller songs they bring into their album- And then Stevie Nicks comes on. Nicks feels incredibly under utilized; when you think of her husky voice you think of other collabs that give her a time to shine. I don’t think this meshes incredibly well. If this track was a bit more stripped down, or at least less intensely moderated by a drum machine, we could have something that could at least be played in an IKEA. Give Stevie some more time to shine! Duets can be fun, but if you bring Stevie Nicks onto a track bring her onto a track! Give her a solo! That being said, the lyricism is fantastic here. 7/10.
“The Tired Influencer” — The keyboards and the samples from the virtual assistants give this track a great deal of personality, as it’s more like a call and response. This feels like this would have been a b-side for Plastic Beach that was left out of the final product, but comes off too… well, robotic. I understand the whole track focuses on the dependence we have on technology and how detrimental it is to our mental state, but frankly it feels too much like something we’ve heard too many times before. The melody is gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, but something’s missing. 7/10.
“Silent Running” — Wow. My goodness. I adored the music video for this. The synths coupled with Adeleye Omotayo’s vocals? Excellent, beyond compare. My ears have heard heaven and I want to hear this again and again. And the whistling? Wow. Wow. The piano with Albarn’s voice fits so well. If this was the opening single, I would have been satisfied. The stylish production complemented with the drum machine gives it personality beyond compare. Adeleye Omotayo compliments Albarn’s voice so well. My goodness. You want me to describe it in three words? Luxurious. Stellar. Haunting. This is the song that just feels perfect from start to finish. I love it more than words can describe. 10/10.
*Note – I’m including the deluxe version with this because it still is as gorgeous as a stripped down piano version as it is with the intensely produced one. My goodness. 10/10 for both.
“New Gold” — I’m not the biggest Tame Impala fan… I like the retro sounding synths in the beginning. Bootie Brown, who previously was in Demon Days is back and spectacular. Tame Impala’s vocals are very soothing and work well with the synths (It’s his element really. Is it really a Tame Impala track if there is no 15 billion synths?) This is one of the few tracks on the album not dominated by Albarn’s vocals and that’s not a bad thing. It gives a mysterious vibe and compliments both of them well. I will say though it feels and sounds like Forever 21 music. Will I compare another song to another clothing brand in this review? Sure. I do this because it tonally fits, not an ad. Regardless, it’s a fun jam. I bet this would be spectacular live. 8/10
*Note this album includes a remix of this song. I like the remix a bit more. 8.5/10 for the remix.
“Baby Queen” — This album is populated heavily by eighties inspired synths, this song is no different. This feels nostalgic, but it also feels like it could be forgotten. It would probably be better as a b-side or something we get in some snippet. The glissandos adds some personality, but the synths are quite a lot. I’m sure in time it will grow on me. This was a single- I admire the confidence. 6.5/10.
“Tarantula” — It feels like a section of “The Tired Influencer” they didn’t want to remove, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a chill palate cleanser, it feels like you’re walking down the boardwalk with an ice cream cone. The lyrics are the same kind of longing of “The Tired Influencer,” but it feels much more natural than the call and response of the previous track- And far more emotional. It’s incredibly well constructed and uses that hint of sadness that you usually find within the mid tracks of a Gorillaz album. Sadness seems so fun and yet so fresh here. I’m quite attached to this song. 9/10.
“Tormenta” — The intro is really pleasant. The drums combined with the simple chords are almost reminiscent of Animal Crossing. As of right now, it is the third most listened song on the album according to Spotify at 37 million listens. This wasn’t a single. Much like “Baby Queen,” this feels nostalgic. Unlike “Baby Queen,” I enjoyed this song quite a lot. Bad Bunny’s vocals add a sweetness to the song and give it a lot of life and love. The harp glissandos combined with his voice make this wonderful. This is the sort of sadness and yet sweetness I’ve come to love with the late 2010s/early 2020s Gorillaz. I adore this. 10/10.
“Skinny Ape” — Albarn is phenomenal in this song, it’s another slower one initially, but really Gorillaz shines with these sort of melodramatic songs, and then it picks up speed. A third of the lyrics (namely towards the end) have “ape.” Yes. Ape. No, this is not an exaggeration. The instrumental break towards the middle with the rapid fire drums certainly is incredible, it breaks out of this sort of slow and melancholy section with something very energetic and bouncy which gives the second half of the song the familiar charm you expect from Gorillaz. It reminds me a lot of their first single from their last album, “Momentary Bliss.” Granted, less ska influenced and more poppy. But it is a fun song to listen to. 9.5/10.
“Possession Island” — Finally a guitar heavy song on this album! The initial Albarn performance is so gentle, it sounds like a lullaby. The pianos add this almost religious like tone to it. And then it falls into the same hole that “Oil” fell in: The duet. Beck’s a great collaborator for Gorillaz, he was spectacular in “Song Machine.” Give Beck time to shine, he’s Beck for crying out loud! The trumpet solo, while a great idea on paper, feel incredibly out of place. It doesn’t add to the emotional nature to the track, but isn’t quite… fitting. 6/10.
“Captain Chicken” — There’s a popular meme in the Gorillaz community called Flimsy Steve. It comes from the fact that often times the rapping verse might not fit the Albarn led chorus. I say Albarn led because 9/10 he’s there. I didn’t quite pick this up until this twitter user had cited this. Credit where credit’s due: https://twitter.com/fyridk/status/1630209037127110657?s=20
The original meme: https://twitter.com/fixyourheartsor/status/1430954697003839495
That being said, I’m glad to see Del back on a Gorillaz album. His rap is so fun, I can ignore the bizarre chorus. And the chicken sounds. We love it. 7/10.
“Crocadillaz” — Speaking of favorites returning to Gorillaz… De La Soul is back! May Trugoy (aka David Jolicoeur) Rest in Peace. This is the kind of mix of Demon Days and modern Gorillaz we were looking for after all this time. The mix is so funky! After all the calm, synthy songs we have this song which is a great compliment. Dawn Penn fits really well in this mix, I’ve actually become a fan of hers through Gorillaz. This feels like a very underappreciated track in the deluxe mix, and could be something I would drink my morning coffee with. I associate songs with feelings because typically I listen to music all the time. 8/10.
“Controllah” — A great start and a great addition by MC Bin Laden. It’s a track that fits well in the Gorillaz canon and would fit well on the album proper (not the deluxe version, but it works well there!). The funk works incredibly well and is incredibly memorable. Fun song, the tempo was very much needed after this relatively slow album. 8/10.
The final thoughts:
This is a well produced album. I enjoyed it a great deal more than I initially thought I would. Some of the collaborators were a natural fit and gave the album a lot of life. I opted for the deluxe version because there are great songs on there that add a sort of character missing to the initial project.
Even with that… I feel like there was something missing, but it’s hard for me to put a finger on it. Sonically, Cracker Island is great. But to quote one of their singles from the Plastic Beach era, Doncamatic, “the song is not the same when it’s all played out.”
Gorillaz has been putting out a LOT of music as of late. I’ve seen the band rise after years of slumber for Humanz, The Now Now, Song Machine, and, of course, Cracker Island. The tone seems to keep pushing towards this singularity. It feels like with every album with a great deal of collaborations, we go for a more Albarn focused and more dreamlike album directly afterwards. I say this because Humanz was dense with collaborations, then The Now Now was a lot calmer. Song Machine was dense with collaborations, and while this has its fair share of collaborations it feels a bit lacking.
I’ll still listen to them of course, and I know that trying to recapture their style pre-2017 is not going to be easy. You can’t recreate Plastic Beach or Demon Days. This is good and has some wonderful tracks, and I think for people just getting into the band, this can be a stepping stone. If you like this album, there’s a lot of options here if you want to get into the band. If you’re new to Gorillaz, welcome to the band!
This one is very divisive, and I can understand. This album was supposed to be cult themed, something that was heavily drawn up in their marketing and music videos. But this feels less cultish and more like you’re in California. I’ve never been to California, any Californians out there can you confirm if this is incredibly California-esque ..?
The album, despite being a bit too comfortable with its early influences, is still solid. I’m glad Gorillaz is gaining the praise and notoriety it deserves from a larger audience and a new generation.
Favorites: “Cracker Island,” “Tarantula,” “Silent Running,” “Skinny Ape,” “Tormenta,” “Crocadillaz”
Not too keen: “Oil,” “Baby Queen,” “Possession Island”
Photo from Amazon.