Saturday 13 March 2010

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach

Continuing on the musical theme, I bought the new Gorillaz album this week, Plastic Beach. You can hear a selection of tracks from the album mix below.

As expected with Damon Albarn's Gorillaz project, there's a wide range of guest stars who make an appearance on the album. I can't think of where I'd find such a varied group of artists such as Snoop Dog, Mark E Smith, Lou Reed, Bobby Womack, and Mos Def all on the same record. But this is what I like about the Gorillaz, it's all about the guest artists as well as Damon Albarn.

A couple of weeks ago I was reading in the Culture section of the Sunday Times a review of the album by Mark Edwards. He was talking about the trend of using a variety of guest vocalists on albums, something which bands like Gorillaz and Massive Attack are famed for.

I think I've always been used to listening to artists who invite other singers and musicians to guest appear on records. Its a great idea when its done well, and done for artistic purposes and not purely based on cynical marketing, as a way of boosting record sales for one or both parties.

With the Gorillaz, I like the idea that the use of guest artists is very much part of their band identity. The single Stylo features Mos Def and Bobby Womack, two artists that I really love and I would never have expected to have found someone like Snoop Dog working with Damon Albarn, but it's a great track and it works. Plus, you get a chance to hear artists in a completely different context.

Following on from this, the collaboration can allow the guest artist to be introduced to a new audience, particularly if fans of the main artist don't know or aren't familiar with the guest artist.

Massive Attack are a perfect example of this. I've always been a big fan, and on their albums they always work with the reggae artist Horace Andy. After years of listening to him with Massive Attack I decided to buy one of his albums. If it wasn't for Massive Attack I'm not sure that I would ever of heard of him.

Edwards makes the point in his review that Gorillaz don't really need guest artists. Damon Albarn is a big enough name in his own right, and many of those featured have lower commercial profiles than Albarn. So what's the attraction for him?

I think Albarn and Massive Attack use guest artists as a way of saying to their fans, here are people that we really admire and respect. Not only do we want to work with them but we'd also like to introduce them to our fans and perhaps a wider audience.

Of course musical collaborations aren't new things. Hip Hop and RnB have been doing it for years, but in general they tend to collaborate amongst themselves. Current examples include Jay Z and Alica Keys' Empire State of Mind. And then you've got the Beyonce/Lady Gaga track Video Phone that's out. Now there's a collaboration I didn't see happening at all. I wonder who got those two together?

Sometimes it can be more interesting and challenging to work with artists from completely different musical backgrounds, I think Albarn and Massive Attack show they're prepared to be musically open minded and adventurous in their approach to making music, turning what appear to be random guest appearances into true collaborations.

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