Happy Thursday, bibliophiles!
Ever since the announcement was made, Cracker Island became one of my most anticipated albums of 2023. I’ve been a fan of Gorillaz for years; their cast of cartoon characters and consistently innovative and downright fun music has made them a mainstay favorite for me. I even had the immense privilege of seeing them last September, and I can say with certainty that it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.
After 2020’s Song Machine: Season 1, I tried to be hesitant about Cracker Island, but I was excited that they didn’t lean on collaborators quite as much as the former. However, Cracker Island turned out to be a mixed bag for me, but still had a few gems—and no shortage of instantly catchy tracks.
Enjoy this album review!
CRACKER ISLAND – GORILLAZ (album review)
Release date: February 24, 2023 (Parlophone/Warner records)
TRACK 1: “Cracker Island (feat. Thundercat)” – 7/10
This is exactly what I meant about the instantly catchy tracks—in the grand scheme of things, it’s not the most inventive or emotional piece of music that Gorillaz has ever created, but man, it’s fun. I have a moral obligation for headbanging whenever it comes on—with the funky bassline, Thundercat’s backing vocals, and Damon Albarn’s hypnotic voice, this is as solid of an album opener as any, a song that I’ll permanently associate with summer.
TRACK 2: “Oil (feat. Stevie Nicks)” – 7/10
“…I need to sit down.” – one of my best friends, upon finding out that Stevie Nicks was on this album
“Oil” is a decent track, but there’s something strange about it that comes up on the rest of the album; normally, Gorillaz collaboration tracks give at least a moderate amount of attention, be it audible backing vocals or separate verses, to their collaborators. But on this track, and several others on the album, I’m struggling to hear Stevie Nicks clearly. It’s a little better on YouTube than Apple Music, weirdly enough, but it still feels like Stevie Nicks isn’t in the spotlight in the same way as Thundercat, Tame Impala, and others on the album are. Huh. Still an alright song—again, nothing life-changing.
TRACK 3: “The Tired Influencer” – 7/10
It seems like this is one of the first Gorillaz songs without any collaborations in years, and the results are…alright. It’s a nice, slow comedown from “Cracker Island,” a soft, electronic lull like trees swaying in the wind. I like the little Siri soundbites seamlessly integrated throughout—there’s some wonderful production going on here and on the rest of the album. Again, not a favorite, but it’s a solid calming song.
TRACK 4: “Silent Running (feat. Adeleye Omotayo)” – 6.5/10
The last single to come out of Cracker Island, “Silent Running” is catchy, but there’s not a whole lot about it that’s terribly compelling. It’s a nice pop song, but compared not only to Gorillaz’s past catalogue and the album as a whole, it seems somehow blander, which for Gorillaz, is a word that I wouldn’t normally use with them under any circumstance. I do like Adeleye Omotayo’s backing vocals though—his rich voice really propels the song in the chorus and beyond.
TRACK 5: “New Gold (feat. Tame Impala and Bootie Brown)” – 8.5/10
Now THIS is more like it! The second single and an instant highlight of the album, “New Gold” is brimming with brightness, the talents of both Tame Impala and Bootie Brown coalescing into a near-perfect pop song. With its pulsating beat and Brown’s hypnotic verses, it’s an example of what Gorillaz can do with collaborators if they really try—make a truly seamless final product and a classic added to the catalogue. I almost don’t even mind Damon Albarn’s autotune here. Normally I’m opposed, but it strangely works.
TRACK 6: “Baby Queen” – 6.5/10
Cracker Island’s third single is still decent, but nothing groundbreaking. It just feels like it’s…there. It’s sitting there and not doing a whole lot musically—very little experimentation or even change in general in the music. Gorillaz can pull off a simpler pop song like nobody’s business, and although I’m all for a slow song, “Baby Queen” is alright, but overall, it doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than calming the album down.
TRACK 7: “Tarantula” – 7.5/10
Aside from the singles and some of the bonus tracks (more on those later), “Tarantula” was more refreshing than some of the album. It’s more interesting musically, and there’s no shortage of electronic brightness brimming from every note. Great to dance to and a high point on the original version of the album, I won’t just value it because it fits nicely into my playlist of songs with animals in the titles (spent way too much time on that…it includes “Shock the Monkey,” “Needles in the Camel’s Eye,” “Pig,” and at least four separate songs on this album, among others), but because it’s just a great song as well.
TRACK 8: “Tormenta (feat. Bad Bunny)” – 3/10
I’m sorry, this is just…nope. Can’t get on board with it. This song perfectly represents the other side of the spectrum of Gorillaz collaborations—the point where it becomes another artist’s song instead of a Gorillaz song. Even the parts where Damon Albarn comes in, he’s horribly autotuned, and sidelined as well. I don’t claim to know anything about Bad Bunny, but it just feels like a Bad Bunny song with extra steps. It barely fits with anything else in the album, and it seems pointless in the scheme of everything else. Yikes.
TRACK 9: “Skinny Ape” – 8.5/10
THERE WE GO, THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!!! For me, it’s tied with “New Gold” as the best song on the album (not counting the bonus tracks; it’s the solo Gorillaz song that I really missed, filled with a pulsating atmosphere that seamlessly shifts between moods, content to languish in the quiet but just as read to bring it up to a monumental, jump-up-and-down worthy chorus. It’s proof that even though the last two albums haven’t been as impactful for me, they’re still capable of a song as wonderful as this over 20 years on from their first album. They played this when I saw them back in September, and it’s just as fun now as it was then.
TRACK 10: “Possession Island (feat. Beck)” – 7.5/10
As the closer to Cracker Island and Gorillaz’s second collaboration with Beck, “Possession Island” is a soft, gentle close of the curtains for this album. Even with all of their spectacle, Damon Albarn and company can garner almost as much emotion in their more vulnerable moments, and this song is proof. It’s a sweet song that almost gives the feeling of being rocked to sleep. All I wish is that, like Stevie Nicks on “Oil,” I could hear Beck’s beautiful voice more; even if his role is just backing vocals, I just find myself wanting to hear his voice more clearly.
NOTE: “Silent Running (feat. Adeleye Omotayo) [2D Piano Version]” and “New Gold (feat. Tame Impala and Bootie Brown) [Dom Dolla remix]” are not included here since they are just different versions/remixes.
BONUS TRACK 1: “Captain Chicken (feat. Del the Funky Homo Sapien)” – 9.5/10
DEL AND GORILLAZ ARE TOGETHER AGAIN!!! I CANNOT GET OVER HOW GOOD THIS SONG IS. SERIOUSLY.
In theory, I can see why “Captain Chicken” was separated from the rest of the album—it doesn’t quite fit the vibe of Cracker Island as a whole, but on its own, it’s easily the best song on the whole album. Maybe it’s nostalgia bait since Del the Funky Homo Sapien hasn’t appeared on a Gorillaz track in over two decades, but if we’re extending this metaphor, I’ve taken a massive bit of said bait, because I just LOVE this song—it embodies the infectious, fun-filled joy that defined Gorillaz for so long. I’m back and forth on whether I want this song to be longer, but somehow, at just under two minutes long, it feels just the right amount. Can’t have too much of a good thing…or can we? I’ve had this song on repeat for several days now…
BONUS TRACK 2: “Controllah (feat. MC Bin Laden)” – 7/10
Any track after “Captain Chicken” has giant-sized shoes to fill, but “Controllah” is a great song all the same. With Damon Albarn’s autotune in moderation and the steady, pulsating beat throughout, it’s the perfect way to keep the momentum of the album running after the abrupt break of “Captain Chicken.” If you’re not nodding your head, you’re lying.
BONUS TRACK 3: “Crocadillaz (feat. De La Soul and Dawn Penn)” – 8/10
DE LA SOUL AND GORILLAZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH DE LA SOUL AND GORILLAZ AGAIN DE LA SOUL AND GORILLAZ HHAHHAHHEHEHFHFEHEFHFEJFSHJHKJDFSKHDF
And speaking of big shoes to fill, it’s hard to top both “Feel Good Inc.” and “Momentz,” but like “Controllah,” this song is the perfect way to keep the beat going, but also to provide a more laid-back transition to the album. Plus, there’s something to be said for the prospect that every time Gorillaz and De La Soul collaborate, the Earth heals a little bit. Nature is healing; Del the Funky Homo Sapien and De La Soul and Gorillaz are doing stuff together again. All is right in the world. Sort of. Not really. Sure feels like it when you’re listening to this.
I’ve averaged my track ratings both with and without the bonus tracks; I’d give the original album a 6.9, which I’ll round up to a 7, and the deluxe edition a 7.2. The deluxe edition brings up the quality of the album as a whole, for sure, but after a few listens, I like Cracker Island slightly more than I did on the first go-around. It grew with time, but not by much; though it wasn’t nearly as innovative as Gorillaz at their best, it had moments of fun and a few tracks that I can see sticking with me. Better than Song Machine, but nothing that will change my life as a whole. Other than how unbelievably good “Captain Chicken” is.
…can’t believe I’m saying that about a song called Captain Chicken, of all things…that’s the power of Gorillaz
And for kicks and giggles, I’ll bring back this wonderful homemade sign from when I saw Gorillaz to end this post:
Since this is an album review, consider the whole album today’s song.
That’s it for this album review! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!