By: Jackson Diol
On August 31st, 2022, Damon Albarn revealed the title for the 8th Gorillaz album, Cracker Island. What soon followed afterward was a long 6-month period where Gorillaz would give us various singles, music videos, and very odd promotional TikToks. This long period between album announcement and album release would’ve not been possible if Gorillaz was a normal band. Unlike normal bands, Gorillaz is famously a virtual band. Due to being a virtual band, music is only one-half of what makes Gorillaz the band it is. The band’s visuals, lore, and world-building are the other half that makes Gorillaz so appealing. The long six months fan had to endure was necessary to plant where the band is at the moment and explain the new world they’re in.
The last studio Gorillaz released was 2020’s Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez. The album mostly worked as a collection of singles that Albarn recorded between 2019 and 2020. Although not a standard album, the project featured a lot of solid Gorillaz material that fans and critics could enjoy. Certain critics even labeled the album the best work the band has done since their comeback album Humanz in 2017. Cracker Island was supposed to be another season of Song Machine, but Albarn ditched that idea for a more standard album. What we got was a 10-track, 42-minute, concise Gorillaz album. Now that Is finally in our hands, did Albarn create a worthy Gorillaz album? Or did Albarn miss the mark?
Cracker Island (feat. Thundercat)
Here Damon Albarn clearly establishes the new world this album will take place. Albarn opens the album by stating “On Cracker Island, it was born.” This statement immediately raises questions about what Cracker Island is and what was born there. Thundercat on song answers these questions during the call and response part of the song by stating “Forever Cult.” Cracker Island seems to be a dangerous island filled with cult members. Outside of what the song details, the song features an absolute grooving bass from Thundercat. The song also contains super bring synths that are peppered throughout the song.
Oil (feat. Stevie Nicks)
“Oil” continues the energy from the intro song through its grooving beat. Albarn’s lyrics are harder to decipher in this song compared to the last one. Albarn seems to be writing about falling into a pit and getting back up from the power of love. Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame joins Albarn in singing the chorus of the song. Her contribution brings a ton of life to the song and even makes the song feel like a Fleetwood Mac song. The instrumentals of the song also give off Fleetwood mac vibes through its powerful melodies and chugging drums.
The Tired Influencer
The third song on the album is considerably slower-paced than the last two songs. “The Tired Influencer” shows Albarn feeling attached to someone in some sort of way. Albarn’s writing style is uniquely cryptic; this song is a great example. The most interesting lyric in the song could be “But nothing real anymore, In the world of the tired influencer.” I believe the song could be a critique or commentary on our social media-based society. Albarn might believe nothing feels “real” anymore since everything is on our phones. Instrumentally, the song feels very solid. There is clearly a pumping drum machine and nice guitars.
Silent Running (feat. Adeleye Omotayo)
“Silent Running” heightens the themes of the internet and its negative side effects. Lyrics like “Well, I got so lost here, Machine-assisted, I disappeared into a dream,” connects the internet to a dream and to getting lost. From this song, it might be inferred that Cracker Island is a metaphor for the internet and social media in today’s age. Adeleye Omotayo is enlisted for the song and brings a great vocal contribution. The instrumentals of the song strangely make me want to dance.
New Gold (feat. Bootie Brown & Tame Impala)
“New Gold” is easily the most grooving, danceable, and catchy song Gorillaz has made in a long time. Both Bootie Brown and Tame Impala bring excellent contributions to the song musically, but they also both add to the world-building of the album. The song is about new gold that was found in the mythical Cracker Island. A twist takes place in the song once Tame Impala sings “New Gold, Fools Gold, Everything will disappear. The new gold ends up being fake and not real. Bootie Brown also makes a direct reference to social media by stating “Trending on Twitter is what some of us live for.” The song’s message is about how social media controls life and is ultimately not real. Although the themes of the song are not cheery, its breaking beat makes it impossible not to dance to.
Side B of Cracker Island starts out melancholy with the song “Baby Queen.” The song finds Albarn surprised to see a queen grow up and become a full adult. It could be interrupted that Albarn feels old as he watches people around him growing up. Albarn is 54 years old and has had a long career in music. It would not be a surprise if Albarn feels really old in today’s world. The song is a nice slow point in the album that reflects on age and growing up.
“Tarantula” is the first overt love song on the album. Albarn writes about how he would do almost anything to support whomever his love is. Lyrics like “I’m on one percent but I’m there with you,” really encapsulate how willing Albarn is to be there for someone he cares about. Even when Albarn feels down himself, he will try to care for another person. Instrumentally the song feels like a typical quirky indie song. The same drum kit found in a lot of the songs on the album is also found in this song.
Tormenta (feat. Bad Bunny)
“Tormenta” continues the themes of love and the need to be close to someone. The song is heavily dominated by Puerto Rican rapper and singer Bad Bunny. Bad Bunny delivers his refrain and verses entirely in Spanish. From a very rough translation of his lyrics, Bad Bunny seems to be wanting to be with someone. Although he has so much love for someone, reality has to split them apart for some reason or another. The word “tormenta” in English means storm. It is a possibility Albarn and Bad Bunny are connecting love to a sort of storm. Or it’s a possibility that Bad Bunny’s situatioship is a sort of storm. Instrumentally, the song embraces reggaeton. The song could realistically fit perfectly on a Bad Bunny album.
The penultimate song on Cracker Island is the zaniest, most adventurous, and most exciting song on the album. “Skinny Ape” not only addresses Albarn is 2D (the fictional leader of Gorillaz) but also brings back the themes of technology. In the second verse, 2D here sings “I got bones and I got jaded legs (Ape), Not the type to win a race (Ape)” and “Left behind, staring at a robot.” At this moment, it is clear that Albarn is writing from 2D’s perspective because Albarn references the jaded legs of 2D. It is also clear at this moment that 2D or Albarn feels left behind with technology. The second half of the song explodes into a burst of loud synths and pounding drums. The song is about the acceptance of being yourself in an ever-changing world.
Possession Island (feat. Beck)
The final track on the album “Possession Island” is a beautiful ballad that brings all the themes of the album together. Albarn sings “Where things they don’t exist, And were all in this together till the end.” In these lyrics, Albarn is singing about how technology is not real and that we need to stick together. Albarn might imply love is the only real thing to exist in the world. Beck sings along with Albarn on backing vocals. Beck’s contribution to the song is reminiscent of Beck’s folk albums like Sea Change. The song has a very minimal, folk aesthetic that works well with closing the album together. Randomly, there is a mariachi band on the bridge of the song. Overall, the closer makes the entire album feel worth listening to.
Over the course of over two decades, Gorillaz has remained incredibly relevant. Anyone from the early 2000s would’ve not predicted how huge Gorillaz would become. Gorillaz managing an album in 2023 that not only feels relevant but is also popular is a huge testament to the band’s true success. Their huge success deserves so much respect and praise. Gorillaz on Cracker Island builds a concept and world in a short 10-track album. Although what the band did on Cracker Island is exceptional, they do not meet their peak. Gorillaz has built more realized and impressive worlds on albums such as Demon Days and Plastic Beach.
Although I don’t believe Cracker Island lives up to Demon Days and Plastic Beach, the album is still filled with good songs and themes. The combination of technology running our lives and love being all we have left is a great set of conceptual themes on the album. Albarn did write an album that perfectly reflects our own world like a good Gorillaz album should do. Gorillaz might not be the exact band it was in the 2000s but it is still a fun and thought-provoking band today. With an impressive list of features, Cracker Island manages to grab attention quickly and sustain that attention throughout the entire album. Ultimately, Gorillaz with Cracker Island created an album that will continue the band’s legacy of being a dark, fun, and exciting band.