Gorillaz – Cracker Island album review: marvellous melodies and more star guests make this offering sing

 (Gorillaz/ PR handout)
(Gorillaz/ PR handout)

As they prepare for their two huge reunion concerts at Wembley Stadium in July, the members of Blur seem to be working extra hard to prove that they’re not another nostalgia act cashing in on decades-old hits.

Guitarist Graham Coxon has a new baby and a new band, The Waeve, with Rose Elinor Dougall, releasing their album at the start of this month. In January, drummer Dave Rowntree finally got around to releasing his debut solo album at 58. And although bassist Alex James has been unproductive when it comes to his own songs, he continues to host an annual music festival on his Cotswolds farm, where he also produces cheeses with names including Grunge and Blue Monday.

Then there’s Damon Albarn, whom no one could accuse of wanting to spend his remaining years yelling “Parklife!” at wizened Nineties nostalgics. If anything it’s a surprise that he’s only releasing one album this month, and a relatively short one at that.

Cracker Island is the eighth album from his multifaceted cartoon project Gorillaz, coming off the back of a long world tour for the guest-packed band last year and a solo album the year before that.

It also follows Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez in 2020, which was possibly a rare case of Albarn biting off more than he could chew. Intended to be an online TV series as well as a 17-song album, the music featured everyone from Elton John to Fatoumata Diawara to Skepta and had lots of great moments but didn’t flow brilliantly.

Here the conciseness, as well as a largely relaxed feel and some marvellous melodies, make for a much more digestible proposition. There are more star guests, but not on every song, and only one instance of rapping, with Albarn’s sleepy croon and bubbly synths dominating the sound.

Thundercat’s slapping bass gives a disco feel to the title track, while the retro rap of Bootie Brown and dreamy voice of Tame Impala combine beautifully on New Gold. Stevie Nicks is also good value on the euphoric Oil, singing about “interlocking cluster bombs” over high electronic drones.

The song that changes the feel is also Albarn’s biggest coup: the appearance of last year’s biggest selling musician worldwide, the Puerto Rican Bad Bunny, over the relaxed reggaeton rhythms of Tormenta.

A-list producer Greg Kurstin helps to keep the big tunes coming, and there’s little sign of Albarn’s less enjoyable musical eccentricities. Cracker Island is one more reason why Gorillaz are his most successful band.