Gorillaz, NERD

If Gorillaz ever took themselves completely seriously, would it spell doom for their infectious virtual-band whimsy, or make for some iconic, classic postmodernism? Originally just a playful side project for Blur frontman Damon Albarn, the animated quartet captured creative lightning in a bottle with the hip-hop-infused synth pop of 2001's Gorillaz and the '05 follow-up Demon Days.

The new Plastic Beach shoots for a little more gravitas with a loose environmental concept, but the sometimes tossed-off results remain as whimsical as ever; the ever-growing list of guest stars (this time including the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble) is more impressive than what they actually contribute. It's clear, with this disc, that Gorillaz have evolved into an even more amorphous concept, a revolving cast of characters gathered by Albarn to do their thing in the name of funky electroclash.

It begs the question: What impact would Albarn have if he ever lost his levity entirely? Does anyone really want to hear a completely serious Gorillaz? Plastic Beach makes you wonder, but stops short of making you find out.

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