Something about Damon Albarn examining the intersection of technology and art through the prism of a literal virtual band just works too well. Gorillaz are still going strong after over two decades as a group, and their eighth album Cracker Island (out Friday, February 24th), shows the British band going from strength to strength; they are a full-on genre-shifting machine whose very existence is already an exploration about the dangers that come from our online and physical worlds overlapping. Using Gorillaz as a medium to probe these very ideas in Cracker Island is something almost meta; but this has been the essence of the band from the start.
Gorillaz have never been regarded as an Albarn “side-project” from his Britpop band Blur, as the two groups are already fully-fledged entities within their own right. With star-studded appearances from the likes of Stevie Nicks, Thundercat, Tame Impala, Bad Bunny, and Beck, Cracker Island is yet another audacious, vibrant effort from the band.
If 2010’s Plastic Beach critiqued the superficial nature of consumerism and material validation in late-stage capitalism, Cracker Island — a treasure trove of pop-culture references — dives into the disillusionment you lose yourself in amidst an artificial society set to collapse at any moment. In its crudest sense, a “cracker” is a contemptuous British slang phrase used to refer to “a white person in the South [of England],” with Albarn elaborating on BBC Radio 1: “It’s a story about people sort of what happens on this island how a cult, a mad mad cult is formed and what happens to it.” And so, an island full of them could signify a dystopian echo chamber of simple, one-note thinking.
Gorillaz records are cultural critiques of some sort; this album takes a closer look at social media, indoctrination through technology, the media’s manipulation of information with auto-tuned truths — all grounded through groove-induced art pop that spans decades and genres.
“Cracker Island” is not a physical entity of a region, but perhaps a philosophical manifestation of being disillusioned and its “made-up paradise.” Its fictional setting could very well be Los Angeles, where part of the album was recorded, but “Cracker Island” is very much is a state of mind and a state of judgment. There are plenty of allusions to the Golden State, its freeways, and specific mentions to the city’s Silver Lake neighborhood.
As far as the lore of the virtual band goes, the foursome relocated to the City of Angels where they became involved in its dark underbelly through cults, occultism, and the search for fame and success in the name of personal enrichment. There is maybe no better city to bask in disillusionment within the digital age than L.A. (all coastal elite biases aside), and it acts as the perfect backdrop for all the feelings of disenchantment that coat Cracker Island.