Although this is their first album without an indie-chic producer, the fake band with fake cartoon characters known as Gorillaz stay the course as a very real post-Blur conduit for Damon Albarn's quasi-apocalyptic, '80s-daydreaming, neon-pop habit. It's best to ignore the concept and dig the lean, razor-sharp music: vibrant, addictive, and very much the product of looking back at a three-decade-old æsthetic once thought disposable.
Guest turns from Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys and the loopy De La Soul ("Superfast Jellyfish") and warble-throated Lou Reed ("Some Kind of Nature") argue that this is the most cartoony Gorillaz album yet; the inclusion of Snoop Dogg and Bobby Womack makes a case for Absurd Record of the Year. Albarn's voice often plays the supporting character, but he steps into the spotlight for the guestless Kinks-with-synths tracks "On Melancholy Hill" and "Rhinestone Eyes," underscoring the point that Gorillaz are more than just a groovy bunch of incongruities.
With synth tones straight outta Miami Vice and dreamy melodies that cut through the fog-machine haze, Plastic Beach is music for piloting your speedboat beyond the no-wake zone, or for looking back from the future with a sentimental affinity for the past.