Ahead of the release of ‘Plastic Beach’ on March 8, Murdoc explains the album in detail
I needed something other-worldly to to open the record. This album’s been a while in the making and this needed to be The Big Reveal. It needed to be portentous, vast and… oceanic. But graceful. Like the morphine’s just gently kicking in as the listener glides into the Plastic Bay. Mmmm.
This little symphony was recorded with the Sinfonia Viva orchestra, in Derby, around April 2009. I recorded with them in the old Rolls Royce engine factory, where they built the engines for the World War II spitfires. Which fits the soul of all this – a bygone era, the remnants of war and planes and decay.
‘Welcome To The World Of Plastic Beach’ (feat. Snoop Dogg)
Snoop’s the grandaddy, isn’t he? ‘Doggystyle’ was for many people the record that got them into rap and G-funk. The track also features The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, a Chicago nine-piece brass group featuring eight sons of Phil Cohran (who played trumpet with The Sun Ra Arkestra).
This is a proper soundtrack: brass-laden, pimped out, plastic funk, mixing the organic with the plastic to form something new and shiny. And who better to open up this world than Snoop?
This one features the National Orchestra For Arabic Music. ‘Plastic Beach’ was intended to be a worldwide collage. Via the guests I brought in and used, I could take little snapshots of the world.
‘White Flag’ was recorded in Beirut, around the end of March 2009. Over there, the Israelis like to fly their jets really low over the city once a month. It’s called “sabre-rattling”. If they fly low and fast enough, it creates a sonic boom effect, taking out all the windows in the area.
This faintly surreal experience in Beirut and Syria got rolled into various themes on the album. What I wanted to do was then add a British counterpart. And who would fit the bill better than the British grime artists Bashy and Kano? What they bring to this is great.
This one was recorded in my little submarine. I nicked a bit of my own ‘Electric Shock’ track, and stuck it in here, with a little delay over the top. Came out quite well, don’t you think?
‘Stylo’ (featuring Bobby Womack and Mos Def)
This is a new sound for Gorillaz. An electro-ish ‘crack funk’ sound, with a little bit of politics and a lot of soul going down. With ‘Stylo’, I wanted the music to feel euphoric, whilst still putting across how precarious our tightly packed situation is now, worldwide. Where we’re at as a species on this overpopulated planet (“Coming on to the Overload. Overload. Overload”).
Bobby Womack’s chorus, he just explodes into the track. How good is it to get Bobby Womack on the record? This was the first recording he’s made in 15, 20 years, so what an honour. Bobby said he only returned to do this Gorillaz track because his granddaughter said Gorillaz were cool. Which is true. We are.
‘Superfast Jellyfish’ (feat. Gruff Rhys and De La Soul)
When you think about Gorillaz, it makes sense to have a Super Furry Animal on there, doesn’t it? I’ve always loved them, so I sent a jet over to pick Gruff up and take him over here.
A lot of fun, this track. If you turn it up loud enough all the colours start spilling and washing out of the speakers. You could flood your room with a track like this.
`Empire Ants’ (feat. Little Dragon)
A moment’s peace amongst the rush. I sampled a lot of this from the theme music to Tomorrow’s World, and the vocalist is Yukimi Nagano from Little Dragon, an electronic band from Sweden.
It was actually 2D who got me into Little Dragon. He played me this lovely song of theirs called ‘Twice’, which he first heard on the TV show Grey’s Anatomy.
‘Glitter Freeze’ (feat. Mark E Smith)
I’m really glad we managed to get Mark E. Smith on the record. I’m not sure he felt the same, but y’know. He wanted to do his part facing north. “Which way’s north from here?”
We used his question as a little intro, kind of like what we did with Shaun Ryder on ‘DARE’. Sometimes the greatest moments are those little mistakes that you catch in the mix when you’re just warming up.
Like ‘Punk’ on the first album, and ‘White Light’ on ‘Demon Days’, this is the album’s rawkus section of chaos. Every album’s got to have one.
‘Some Kind of Nature’ (feat. Lou Reed)
I grew up on Lou Reed, and the Velvets. And I loved Lou’s solo stuff, ‘Magic and Loss’ and ‘The Blue Mask’ and ‘Transformer’ of course.
It’s funny. This track’s got a good ol’ sunshiny vibe. Like something off Sesame Street. Apparently Lou Reed is one of the only people to never appear, or refuse to appear, on Sesame Street. So it’s quite a coup that we got him on this.
I recorded with Lou over in New York and he wanted to do his whole vocal thing in private, on his own. He ordered everyone out the studio. Me too. I love Lou, but y’know: this is my album. I wanna know what’s going down. Still, his track… wow! Solid gold.
`On Melancholy Hill’
The melancholy hill – it’s that feeling, that place, that you get in your soul sometimes, like someone’s let your tyres down. It’s nice to break up the album with something a little lighter. It’s good to have something that’s a genuine pop moment on every album. And this is one of those.
Erm….I don’t really know what to say about this track, y’know, like Frank Zappa said “talking about music is like fishing about architecture”. This track just works. I don’t want to talk about it. Is that, OK?
‘Sweepstakes’ (feat. Mos Def)
The Hypnotic Brass brothers give us that full-on Chicago brass muscle, turning this track out into a ‘Quincy Jones’ version of hip hop, MC’ed superlatively by Mos Def. An absolute gent. I first met him in The Box club on the Lower East side of NYC. I like his rap work, and I saw him in Be Kind Rewind.
“Sweepstakes: you’re a winner.” Collect your little plastic prize at the counter. There’s a lot of rubbish that gets dangled in front of people on this Earth. Making people feel like a winner is one of the best way of hooking them in.
`Plastic Beach’ (featuring Mick Jones and Paul Simonon)
It’s a special moment for fans of Gorillaz and the Clash. How did this come about? Well, I had commandeered Paul Simonon from the Good, The Bad And The Queen. And it made sense.
Gorillaz were always influenced by The Clash. They were always my favourite band, I loved how they took the heart and soul of punk and reggae smeared it in London graffiti and paint and then sailed it round the world. I don’t think that’s a million miles from what Gorillaz do now.
‘To Binge’ (feat. Little Dragon)
Another collaboration with Little Dragon, `To Binge’ ends up as a beautiful duet between vocalist Yukimi Nagamo and 2D. A Hawaiian version of melancholy, yeah? You don’t see a lot of miserable Hawaiians, do you? It’s not known for its grim outlook on life.
`Cloud Of Unknowing’ (feat. Bobby Womack)
This track’s a mirror of the opener, a final reflection on the Plastic Beach. Bobby Womack’s performance on this song can still bring tears to my eyes. That mixture of hope and uncertainty in his voice – the age and the experience, the fear and the joy… ‘scuse me.
This song, like the Who’s ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ is the moment that gathers together the events of the album – and pauses for reflection: “Waiting to see what the morning brings, it may bring sunshine on its wings….”
‘Pirate Jet’ takes the album out swinging, a finale with shuddering jazz hands: “Did you like the show? It was called PLANET EARTH”. We’re finished and now everyone’s evolved into plastic. A new breed of human.
But y’know, I want to clear this up. ‘Plastic Beach’. It’s not a green record. It’s not a judgement on the world. It’s just a picture. Plastic Beach: it’s another place, another way of looking at the world. And this is its soundtrack….
‘Plastic Beach’ is released via Parlophone on March 8.