Plastic Beach (Virgin Records) When you thumb through the diverse roster of artists who contributed to Plastic Beach — including Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, De La Soul, and Lou Reed — you probably wouldn’t guess that it’s one of the most cohesive, fully realized pop albums in years. Or maybe you would, if you’ve followed Damon Albarn’s (among others) Gorillaz work all along. Originally conceived as a “supergroup” of musicians and visual artists hiding behind the facade of a cartoon band, Gorillaz has always presented an unwavering vision of topical themes, lively beats, and melancholy melodies. It’s a fictional band that asks, “What is real?” and sings about the apocalypse in the present tense. After Snoop’s George Clinton-like intro, you’ll fasten your seat belts, cause it’s going to be a bumpin’ ride. Nearly every song is a highlight, but I especially like “Melancholy Hill” (which recalls the Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing” and Leonard Cohen’s “I Can’t Forget” — not too shabby!) and Reed’s wry, worldweary reading on “Some Kind of Nature.” “White Flag” is the kind of song that only the Gorillaz can do well, finding the crossroads between Tchaikovsky and Buju Banton with a phenomenal string section and dancehall riddims. Plastic Beach is a big hit right now, and deservedly so: pop music should always be this adventurous.
— Robert Benziker