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Gorillaz: Plastic Beach (Album Review)

The brainchild of former Blur leader Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett, Gorillaz isn’t just a band, it’s a whole other universe complete with characters, story lines, concepts, and locales.

On the cartoon quartet’s third release, bassist/lead singer Murdoc has moved the group to “Plastic Beach,’’ a fantastical and disquieting place built on detritus that has floated to a remote locale in the South Pacific.

Although that big garbage pile reflects themes that run through the album – corrupt corporations polluting the world both literally and psychically, melancholy amidst the decay, and blind acceptance of the status quo – it also reflects something central to Albarn’s approach to making music. He takes the various pieces of flotsam that interest him – industrial synth patterns, gauzy Brit-pop melodies, gritty soul vocals, clipped hip-hop rhymes – and welds them into a junk sculpture that never fails to intrigue.

From the languid, early Bowie dreaminess of “Empire Ants’’ to the chilled-out fuzz-funk of “Stylo,’’ featuring a startling eruptive vocal from the legendary Bobby Womack, “Plastic Beach’’ captivates.

Coconspirators this time out include rappers like Mos Def and Kano and Gorillaz veterans De La Soul – the silly-scary “Superfast Jellyfish’’ – and newcomers like Lou Reed, who lends his dry speak-singing gifts to the electro-beatnik jam “Some Kind of Nature.’’

As with the best albums tied to an elaborate concept, a literal understanding of any central tale or idea isn’t mandatory to enjoy the music