Gorillaz anticipated eighth album, Cracker Island, was finally released on February 24, after months of teasing fans with singles, exclusive vinyl releases, music videos, cover art/track/collaboration announcements, TikToks, emails, AR experiences, and more throughout 2022.
Cracker Island welcomes us into Phase Seven of the storyline of cartoon members of the virtual band Gorillaz. This phase is officially known as The Static Channel, via the band’s music videos, social media posts, podcast, mailing lists, Discord server, website, interviews, and other promotional materials. Since their conception, the message of Gorillaz has always been centered around the theme of “manufactured” boy bands and rejecting the idolization of false icons, and this new phase continues this theme through the more modern social commentary of cults and “stan culture.”
- “Cracker Island” (feat. Thundercat)
The album’s titular first single originally premiered back in June, almost nine months before the album’s release date, and features verses from Thundercat, known for his song, “Them Changes,” which made its rounds on TikTok a while back. The song introduces us to the themes of cultism, occultism, drugs, fame-chasing, stan culture, and cancel culture, which are interwoven throughout the rest of the album. It’s also important to mention that “Cracker Island” peaked at number two on the U.S. Billboard Alternative Airplay chart, which makes it their highest charting song since 2005’s “Feel Good Inc.”!
Damon’s explanation: As is the case with most Gorillaz songs, there are usually two intentions — the meaning lead vocalist Damon Albarn wrote it to be AND the meaning in the context of the world of the band’s fictional cartoon members. Albarn has openly made known his dislike of social media and the internet in the past, and this whole album definitely taps into that. In an interview with BBC Radio 1, Albarn stated that the song is about the idea that “people have kind of some mad ideas can all kind of live together happily in their own kind of echo chamber.“
Lore explanation: In the song’s music video, we see the band members, lead singer 2-D, drummer Russel Hobbs, and guitarist Noodle, being questioned by police at the hospital. 2-D hallucinates visions of Thundercat. Russel, in a catatonic state, stares at a TV showing a breaking news report involving an occult ceremony beneath the Hollywood Sign. We learn bassist Murdoc Niccals has become the leader of The Last Cult. A “bed sheet ghost” moves toward him before revealing herself to be a young woman. The young woman rapidly ages into an elderly woman, and Murdoc strokes her cheek, planting a kiss on her lips while the others stare at them in shock. Despite being the first song on the album, the video seems to be the end of the band’s story, leaving listeners to wonder what events preceded the events in the video.
Notable lyric: “They taught themselves to be occult.”
- “Oil” (feat. Stevie Nicks)
Stevie Nicks is best known for her work with the rock band, Fleetwood Mac, as well as her solo work. Her voice on this track, combined with Damon Albarn’s thick “2-D” accent, just makes my brain itch so good! Word on the street is that Stevie only agreed to do the song if she could be in the music video, so an “Oil” music video might be coming in our near future!
During her appearance on The Zane Lowe Show, Stevie explained her thoughts on the track: “I think that song is like somewhere between love and war because when it’s on like, ‘interlocking cluster bombs,’ right? And then there’s like, ‘fill it up with love’ — my favorite part. I’m like, it’s going from interlocking cluster bombs to fill it up with love, and I’m like somehow this clever songwriter… molded these two sides of this and I’m going like, is there a touch of Ukraine in here? I know, maybe, maybe not. Who knows. But [with] the whole ‘fill it up with love,’ I can still be this person. What does he say? At the end, he says, ‘But I’m not that cold, but I could forget you, but when I walk away I could forget you,’ and I’m like, well, that was kind of cold, actually. But okay because it’s what came to his head when he was writing that sentence, you know? So I learned those words and the fact that it’s called ‘Oil,’ I’m like is that water and oil? Or fire and oil? Or, you know, like ice and fire? What? Whatever it is, I can’t wait until it comes out because I’m so proud of it. Now… I was an honorary Heartbreaker, I was an honorary Foo Fighter, and now I’m an honorary Gorilla, I was so happy.”
Notable lyric: “Close the wells of poison, fill them up with love.”
- “The Tired Influencer”
Should be titled “‘The Tired Influencer’ (feat. Siri)”.
Damon’s explanation: “I’m really proud of ‘The Tired Influencer.’ The lovely thing about that, and no word of a lie – when I was doing the lead vocals, I had them on my iPad and I put the iPad on the stand. And obviously it was weighted down in some way, and Siri came on. So I’m singing ‘It’s a cracked screen world …’ – and at first I’m not aware of it [but] Siri’s answering each phrase, because there was no music. All that Siri was hearing was my disembodied voice, because I’ve got the rest in headphones. So after the take, I realised there was this whole conversation with Siri in the background, which is kind of wonderful in the sense that the song is about people whose lives are almost dictated by their interaction with social media.”
Notable lyric: “It’s a cracked-screen world.”
- “Silent Running” (feat. Adeleye Omotayo)
“Silent Running” premiered in January 2023 with a music video following almost two weeks later, just less than a month before the album’s release date. The song was first played live at the beginning of Gorillaz’ South American tour in late April 2022 in Montevideo, Uruguay. According to Genius, ‘Silent Running’ is a nautical term that refers to when submarines travel as quietly as possible as to be undetectable (possibly a callback to their third album from 2010, Plastic Beach). “Silent Running” explores themes of social media addiction and how one can get lost mindlessly consuming tailored content.
Damon’s explanation: “[The track channels] that sort of mesmerizing dreamlike state you get in when you’re just following some train of thought… when something so beautiful is killing you. It’s just ‘I can’t deal with this’, you know, it’s that feeling, you know? It’s a horrible thing when you’re driving at night and it’s raining. Notice it’s quite dangerous, driving at night, because you can really get mesmerised; you just go into a trance – literally don’t even know its happening, and then if you’re lucky, something pulls you out of it so you don’t have a f***ing head-on collision. But it’s a real thing, it’s a really dangerous thing.” When asked about the song’s outro, Damon says, “…I suppose its sort of an ode to trumpism. This kind of ‘Make America Great Again’. Firstly, what is this thing about great? Its just a preposterous concept for anybody, and I come from Great Britain so believe me, I know all about that bollocks.”
Lore explanation: “Sometimes I get well lost and end up in the wrong place but then it turns out that’s where I was meant to be going anyway.” —2-D.
Set moments before the events in the “Cracker Island” music video, the “Silent Running” music video features the band infiltrating the headquarters of rival cult-next-door, the Forever Cult— led by the young woman from the “Cracker Island” video, Moonflower —who have kidnapped 2-D and strapped him to a wheel that’s being lowered into a pit to be consumed by a giant humanoid monster. Luckily, a bottle of Murdoc’s cologne, Essence of Murdoc, slips out of his pocket and falls into the mouth of the monster, who swallows it and promptly explodes. The video ends with Murdoc running away and the rest of the band surrendering to police. We know what happens next.
Notable lyric: “Memories of triumph. This is the season of madness.”
- “New Gold” (feat. Tame Impala and Bootie Brown)
The album’s second single was released a month after “Cracker Island” — proud to say I heard both songs performed live in concert in October 2022 before the album’s release! Along with the single, the album’s title, release date, cover art, and tracklist were announced too. The song features verses by Tame Impala and long-time Gorillaz collaborator Bootie Brown (best known for his rap verse in Gorillaz’s 2005 song, “Dirty Harry”). According to Genius, “New Gold” talks about how the “new gold” that people pursue in the modern era— i.e. cosmetic surgery, drugs, internet clout, etc. —is all glitz and glamour, or “fool’s gold.” The song also serves as a warning; what we pursue now is ultimately self-destructive— cosmetic surgery will always age poorly, drugs will destroy one’s mind, and online arguments will only make those involved more isolated from their surroundings. It is only when one has nothing left in life that they realize it’s too late.
Notable lyric: “Are we all losin’ our minds? Because life got in the way.”
- “Baby Queen”
The album’s third single. It was leaked in September 2022 before premiering on the FIFA 23 soundtrack.
Damon’s explanation: “I’m writing and recording a song about an incident when I was in Thailand and met the crown princess. This was November ’97. She was only 14 at the time, and she came to see us, and due to the very specific role the royal family play in Thailand, they put a throne next to the mixing board for her to sit in, surrounded by I don’t know how many soldiers. ‘Song 2’ started and she stood on her throne and stage-dived into the crowd. The reason I’ve written a song about it is because I had a dream about this princess very recently; she’d grown up and we spent time in my dream together, her as a woman. So there you go: 1997 was a long time, but at the moment it’s not.”
Lore explanation: At the moment, this song is the black sheep of the album, as it doesn’t really fit into the canon of the character’s story; it’s literally just about a dream that Damon had about a 14-year-old Thai princess.
Notable lyric: “In my dreams where you’ve been, you’ve grown up.”
My favorite song on the album as of late! I don’t know how else to describe this song other than sounding exactly the way a song called “Tarantula” would sound. I will say, as somebody with severe arachnophobia— so much so that even A PICTURE of a spider will send me spiraling —I’m personally having a rough time researching the meaning and lyrics, as that involves me using the keyword ‘tarantula,‘ and, if there’s anything we’ve learned from this album so far, it’s that internet algorithms can sometimes be insufferable. The song seems to describe a parasocial relationship, or a relationship that a person imagines having with another person whom they do not actually know, like a celebrity would have with their fans, in this case, lead singer of the virtual band Gorillaz, 2-D, and their fans.
Notable lyric: “If you’re good for me, then I’m good for you and that’s all I need in my life.”
- “Tormenta” (feat. Bad Bunny)
Possibly the most anticipated track of the entire album. The one that started it all, back in 2021 before the concept of an eighth album was even put into the ether, and also the first track completed for the album. The song was recorded in Jamaica and features Puerto Rican rapper and singer Bad Bunny. The title translates to “Storm” in English. One of my favorite aspects of Gorillaz is how they’re not bound to a specific genre; Gorillaz is more of a platform of sorts. They can write a reggaeton song with Bad Bunny, and it’s GOOD and, despite the heartbreaking subject matter, it’ll make you want to dance!
Notable lyric: “Yo no sé si fue Dios pero creo que lo vi cuando me besaste.”
- “Skinny Ape”
The fourth single from the album and notably performed at two “augmented-reality” shows featuring the characters in Times Square and Piccadilly Circus in December 2022.
Damon’s explanation: “This is the most kind of, sort of, for me, the most Gorillaz animated characters song. I feel like this is very in the world of 2-D, you know, and I like to enter that level of fantasy sometimes, because it’s really important part of what Gorillaz is about.” Damon has stated in interviews about “Skinny Ape” that he was inspired to create the song after seeing delivery drones and robots for the company, Amazon. “It’s something which we haven’t got in my little island far away.. yet! And I saw it first in Los Angeles.”
Lore explanation: Another one of these Gorillaz songs that has an obvious real-life meaning, while its place in the band’s canon is left up to the listener’s interpretation. Many believe the song to be referring to 2-D (with his lanky build) as a ‘skinny ape,’ having dealt with physical and emotional abuse from Murdoc since the beginning, finally taking the helm and producing his own projects; 2-D telling the listener, “don’t be sad for me,” or don’t take things so seriously because he doesn’t want/need your pity or sympathy. At the end of the day, he is just a cartoon, after all. The song also alludes to aging, technology rapidly advancing, the younger generation teaching the older generation, overcoming depression or other forms of adversity and obstacles, and moving on from the past to welcome a happier new beginning, etc.
Notable lyric: “Don’t be sad for me. I’m a cartoon G. And my intent is to breathe in a new world, don’t be sad for me.”
- “Possession Island” (feat. Beck)
Beck, another previous collaborator with Gorillaz and of “Loser” fame, sings this beautiful, almost dystopian song with Albarn to close out the album. It was originally written as an outtake for one of Damon’s solo albums and has almost a flamenco/mariachi vibe.
Notable lyric: “Where things they don’t exist and we’re all in this together ’till the end.”
Upon first listen of this album all the way through, it felt like Damon’s “Boomer” album set to lo-fi hip-hop beats to relax and study to, a lament about being frustrated with how technology is advancing too fast to keep up with and youth being brainwashed by algorithms and social media and such. Nevertheless, every song on this album is just beautiful and obviously had a lot of effort put into their conceptualizations. The featured artists on this album are some of the biggest names Gorillaz has ever collaborated with. Hoping and praying they come back to tour again because they put on one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended! I do wish the characters’ storyline about the neighboring cults was clearer; with each album, the “virtual band” feels more and more like mascots than the facade of being the actual band, but that’s my only critique!
Two days after the album’s standard release, three DELUXE songs became available as well: “Captain Chicken” (feat. Del the Funky Homosapien), marking the return of yet another long-time Gorillaz collaborator, Del, best known for his verses on their 2001 hits, “Clint Eastwood” and “Rock the House“; “Controllah” (feat. MC Bin Laden), a Brazilian funk artist; and “Crocadillaz” (feat. De La Soul and Dawn Penn), releasing less than a month after the death of the former’s member, Trugoy the Dove, aka David Jolicoeur. All three songs are great, as good as the songs that precede them, albeit seemingly unrelated to the subject matter of the rest of the album.
Total album rating: 7/10
Listen to Cracker Island now wherever you buy or stream music!