A Review of Cracker Island

The newest Gorillaz album heads in a pop-driven direction.

Miller Orris, Staff Writer

Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett have always run a tight ship when it comes to Gorillaz releases. 

The visuals and music are normally very interwoven, giving the virtual band life, and bringing different stories to each album Albarn makes under Gorillaz. Since their comeback in 2017, they’ve had a relatively solid string of albums, with the highlight being 2020’s Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez, an anthology album of one-off tracks.

The follow-up to the 2020 release was rumored to be a sequel in the Gorillaz discography, but plans were said to have switched at some point to focus on a standalone album.

The album is Cracker Island, with the lead single featuring bass extraordinaire Thundercat.

The singles leading up to the record were promising. “Cracker Island” with Thundercat and “New Gold” with Tame Impala and Bootie Brown both revealed the summer-pop feel the album would follow.

The album itself, however, is confusing. The story isn’t exactly present as one would think, and the visuals from Hewlett imply a much larger world being built than the one present in the music.

The music itself is decent, easy to listen to pop music that will likely be the soundtrack to many summers, but the lack of story leads one to wonder why the aforementioned Song Machine Season 2 was scrapped.

The first Song Machine focused on tight collaborations, a field in which Gorillaz has always excelled. Songs with rappers like Slowthai and ScHoolboy Q felt reminiscent of the outfit’s early hits with artists such as Del The Funky Homosapien and MF DOOM.

The first Song Machine was an album composed of singles with little overarching story to be found. This wasn’t an issue because it wasn’t the focus of the record, nor was it ever presented as such.

Cracker Island presents itself as a story-filled album like 2010’s Plastic Beach, but it loses focus quickly.

The music on Cracker Island simply isn’t as good as Gorillaz 2020 release, and some duds are surely present. “The Tired Influencer” features some oddly out-of-touch lyrics such as “cracked-screen world” and an equally pretentious title.  “Skinny Ape” is a grating song and one of my least favorite Gorillaz tracks to date. The chanting present throughout the song gets old quickly. “Tormenta” featuring Bad Bunny sounds like a Bad Bunny song, which gets no complaints from me, but Albarn’s signature experimentation is missing from songs such as this.

All of the features throughout the record impress, with the highlights being Thundercat and Tame Impala on the front half. 

I’m not sure what inspired the duo to switch up the release calendar and make another standalone album. The material feels strangely in the same vein of Song Machine, with its many collaborations and single-esque feel, but the failure to truly follow through on a sequel to Song Machine leaves this album feeling slightly awkward in its theme and execution, especially in narrative.

Again, the music isn’t bad, but it’s undeniably boring by Albarn’s standards, and if the goal was a pop record, a sequel to Song Machine would have provided higher quality pop-singles without the need to focus on a story.

Cracker Island jumps from the heights reached on Song Machine and settles back into the mediocrity of 2017’s Humanz and 2018’s The Now Now. It leaves the listener wondering what’s next for Gorillaz. I’d hope the Song Machine sequel is coming soon, but as for traditional albums, the band is entering its third disappointing record since retirement, leaving many wondering what’s next.

Rating: 6/10