Acoustic Sounds


Cracker Island



Label: Parlophone

Produced By: Gorillaz, Greg Kurstin, Kevin Parker, Remi Kabaka Jr., Tainy

Engineered By: Mark “Spike” Stent, Matt Wolach, Stephen Sedgwick

Mastered By: Randy Merrill (Sterling Sound)

Lacquers Cut By: Joe Nino-Hernes (Sterling Sound)

By: JoE Silva

March 31st, 2023



More Monkey Business From Gorillaz

Cartoon Pop Heroes Kick Off New Phase

Take yourself back to the brink of the millennium and try to imagine a stoned Damon Albarn and artist pal Jamie Hewlett sitting on a couch in West London, dreaming up a cartoon concept that will still has legs some 20 years on. It might be tough to fathom, but that’s exactly what happened.

Now the creative minds of Gorillaz are able to fill stadiums and generate untold minutes of fan adoration/speculation on YouTube. Musically untethered from Blur, Albarn’s Gorillaz material has outsold his other band by millions of units at this point. And with the arrival of “Cracker Island,” there’s no sign of their success tapering off.

That doesn’t mean that everything’s gone entirely to plan. A Netflix deal to put Hewlett’s weird and adorable characters in a feature length animated film fell apart, and the duo were left to recalibrate and kick off the latest stage of their project (“Phase Seven” for those keeping tabs…), on a different tack.

 One day in 2021, a hungover Albarn was in Los Angeles and got prodded into an unlikely meeting with Adele producer Greg Kurstin. The two hit it off so well that they actually completed the majority of the single “Silent Running” during their first get together. As an entrée to their collabo the track is an easy fit into the Gorillaz universe with its laidback groove and Albarn’s signature melancholia rubbing up against Adeleye Omotayo’s soulful backing vocals. Buried four tracks deep into the record, it’s still probably the album’s hookiest moment.

 Which brings up one of the oddities of this, their eighth studio outing. The sequencing, which kicks off abruptly with the title track (featuring ace of bass Thundercat…), sort of diffuses their typical vibe – the sense that the listener has dropped into a methodically constructed experience. Sure, the tunes are there, the high profile cameos are all in place, but the coherence that we’re used to seems a little on the wane. The concept that Murdoc (Gorillaz’s fictional bassist…) has erected a cult in his own honor doesn’t really take hold.

After the opener we next get an appearance from Stevie Nicks on “Oil” that works just fine, but doesn’t really result in a star turn. Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker’s contribution paired with the wordplay of Bootie Brown (ex-Pharcyde) on “New Gold” is a mini triumph as is when Beck turns up on “Possession Island” at the end of side two.  

 And while the inclusion of Bad Bunny on “Tormenta” is kind of a smart, topical choice, it does feel a bit like Albarn is doing a bit of unnecessary A-listing. It’s not a bad track but it seems beamed in (unnecessarily) from another universe. Albarn is much better off on his own with tracks like “Skinny Ape,” particularly when it goes full throttle right around the three minute mark. The same goes for “Baby Queen” which has the sort of polished pop vibe that slots in perfectly into the dominion of the Gorillaz.

 A certain amount of credit for what works sonically here should probably be given to veteran engineer Spike Stent who mixed the record. It’s pretty lush sounding throughout and despite our (possibly unfounded) concerns of picking up the limited Indie Exclusive Neon Purple vinyl pressing (with die cut inner and fold out poster…), it played wonderfully with rich tonality throughout. Part of the “band’s” stock in trade now are the multiple editions of each release. They are a collector’s dream (or nightmare…), with this latest release arriving in more than a dozen version including picture discs, a deluxe box and numbered set that spreads the album out over 10 7-inch singles.

Overall, the faithful are served well here. And the same goes for the curious onlooker. Albarn and Hewlett may just need to tweak the pace of their output a touch. The “Song Machine” project that preceded “Cracker Island” was brilliant and on par with some of their best material. And in no way should their latest be seen as a shabby addition to their catalogue. It’s more akin to a perfectly pleasant misstep


Music Specifications

Catalog No: 5054197213168

Pressing Plant: Precision Record Pressing

Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2023-04-01 01:47:23 AM

    Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

    Definitely not my favorite album from Gorillaz... but fun nonetheless! Damon Albarn is friggin' brilliant and such a ton of fun live. It's like a revue where everything changes from song to song.

    I agree- Song Machine is more even and exciting. Of the more modern era (post-2010), I feel Humanz is a blast and as much fun as Song Machine. Now Now still has it's value to me as well.

    Pre-2010 is epic, IMO. But, I always look forward with all of my bands' offerings. Nothing like the present!

  • 2023-04-04 06:49:06 PM

    Tim wrote:

    I think 9 is too high for the sound of this album after having listened through it twice. If I had put a number on it, would be closer to 6.

    You can tell straight off the bat that the overall mastering (not specifically vinyl) had no consideration for a potential vinyl release, it is brick-walled beyond belief. Typical example of modern loudness obsession.

    Even compared to other Gorillaz vinyls, this album lacks. When I compare to Plastic Beach for example, at least that had some redeeming qualities and in some ways quite nice sounding... This album however is mostly a wall of 'too much' and 'bleh'..

    The overall presentation was, for lack of a better word, very digital = sterile, lacking in relatable texture, colorless and just yawn..

    I would go so far as to say that the music itself is severely impaired due to the sub-par mastering here... It simply needs better dynamics.