Cracker Island

Mar 02, 2023
Web Exclusive

By Andy Steiner

Once upon a time, Gorillaz was a band with a plot. Damon Albarn’s music and Jamie Hewlett’s animation combined to create the digital world of 2-D, Russel Hobbs, and other fictional heroes. While the “virtual band” idea might have been fresh when the project began in the early aughts, its high-concept scheme has been relegated to side material rather than an essential part of the band’s identity. Albarn has made great music under the Gorillaz moniker, but he hasn’t made an album that has fulfilled their conceptual promise since 2010’s Plastic Beach.

Cracker Island is a solid pop album. But it’s not a pop album, it’s something bigger, something more fraught: it’s a Gorillaz album. And being in that universe means setting scenes, plots about the occult, and more diversions from what’s really good here: a pleasant, well-produced Damon Albarn record.

The most notable distinction between Cracker Island and its predecessor, 2020’s Song Machine, is the presence of Los Angeles-based producer Greg Kurstin, who co-wrote every track. Kurstin is a major force, producing records with nearly everyone in pop, from Adele and Harry Styles to Foo Fighters and Keith Urban. He gives Cracker Island a sleek pop edge: the CHVRCHES-like synth drop on “Skinny Ape,” “Silent Running’s” punchy drum programming, “Tarantula’s” sticky hook. It’s a welcome collaboration.

Collaborations provide all of Cracker Island’s notable touchpoints. The Tame Impala collaboration “New Gold” is a 2015 indie fever dream, and Bad Bunny provides some much-needed breeziness on “Tormenta.” Stevie Nicks’s ethereal husk darkens the bright pop of “Oil.”

Gorillaz was once a creative outlet that allowed Albarn to explore new territories. But Cracker Island suggests that the concept has grown stale. Those lovable animated creatures feel like they’re on an island of their own, isolated and untethered to what’s actually been churning the project forward all along. (

Author rating: 6/10

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