From horrific returns to diminishing returns: guest starring the Gorillaz( reviews for Dead Space Remake, Ant-Man 3 and Cracker Island)

Image from Game Informer (In this Space shall you scream…)

In the interest of expedience, this entry will be covering a game, a movie and a new album of music from yours truly’s favorite band, that being a first for this blog. First off is hopefully not the last big budget remake of a classic horror title that proves to be welcome even if not completely needed.

Dead Space (2023)

Poor Isaac Clarke. One of gaming’s most pre-eminent forty-something age heroes couldn’t get a break in the end. We and by that I mean people who play video games of course thought that the outer space-faring engineer’s story had ended a decade ago with the highly disappointing Dead Space 3. Much like the enemies you will face in this survival horror franchise, it has reanimated itself into something familiar yet more frightening. On a meta level, it makes more sense than even Resident Evil to be a series that returns to haunt you.

Due to the popular reception from both critics and fans for this 2023 rebirth, the second and third games in the series seem destined for the same fate and yet what a promising fate it might be. Replaying Dead Space 2 thanks to this awesome update of a game, I am struggling to see how that 2011 title could be improved on due to how laser focused it was in being, for lack of a better description, a linear sequence of scares, but what a sequence.

Many of the improvements that brings Dead Space 1 back to life are taken from the improvements DS2 introduced. I’m sure Motive Studios has some ideas about that, possibly brilliant stuff but that’s a discussion for later. Dead Space 3, the black sheep of the series, that I’m more excited about seeing a second chance given to. I would prefer that to be a full blown re-imagining however, to keep the ominously good ideas DS3 had and excise the many awful or half-baked ones that sunk it.

That the Remake sneaks in elements and lore retroactively from the sequels suggest that Motive plans to do exactly that. Hell, it might even lead to an honest to God Dead Space 4 occurring, all to pick up where original DS developer Visceral Games had been forced to leave behind.

Dead Space can be called iterative sci-fi horror, in that a lot of it screams to you as familiar, but it’s intelligent and new enough in execution that you really won’t mind. Hell, you might be drawn on by the familiar all so you can witness what is different. That was one of the keys to the 2008 original’s success, to the point it has been proclaimed one of the best horror games ever made, forward thinking in it’s approach to how it has the player interact with its world literally and psychologically.

It’s iterative of classic gaming horror on a deliberate level too. Visceral Games have opened up rather directly about how Dead Space was ultimately their fusion of two classic titles: 1999’s System Shock 2 and 2005’s Resident Evil 4. Funny that latter inspiration, seeing as how that game is due for a March 2023 Remake of its own and against my own judgements about recycling old content, that remake looks dope and is one of my most anticipated experiences of the year. Only a first-time trip to Hawaii can keep me from it.

System Shock 2 is set in a space-faring future like Dead Space and involves an unnamed, mostly mute protagonist ending up on a star-ship undergoing one hell of a crisis. Namely, a bio-organic species called The Many is slowly taking over the crew’s bodies and minds and turning them into terrifying monstrosities hell-bent on either your conversion or more likely your death. Seems quite familiar to a Dead Space player I would think.

There’s much more than just that happening in System Shock 2’s story including rogue misanthropic AIs and a gameplay system that acts as spiritual predecessor to the Bioshock series 8 years later with some of the same people involved. This cult classic was so good and ahead of its time, it inspired not one but two franchises that continue to linger in the public mind to this day.

The Resident Evil 4 inspiration came through it’s ground-breaking use of the camera, through an over the shoulder perspective that would soon become an industry standard for just about any game called Third-Person. Gears of War would also take great inspiration, building on RE4’s design through its own influential taking cover system, itself becoming a standard for game design.

From Isaac’s perspective, you were always viewing his body from the left side of the camera, leaving enough space to observe your often claustrophobic environments. The effect is putting you in the place of a man navigating an environment from which deadly terrors can strike from essentially anywhere. In spite of not viewing it through Isaac’s eyes, you still felt alone, stuck in an unsafe place with him. It was this sense of being a stranger in a strange, hostile land that was just as necessary to borrow from RE4 as the camera perspective and how to aim a weapon in that perspective. Dead Space might be the gold standard of how to follow the leader without being cheap about it.

A distress call is received from a deep space mining vessel called the Ishimura, one of the oldest in the business, soon to be decommissioned. Isaac Clarke, our slowly graying hero (looking younger than he did in the original due to mo-capping the voice actor’s face) volunteers because his lady love Nicole is serving as the chief medical officer, a regular Beverly Crusher, minus any Wesley mercifully.

The crew arrives at the Ishimura hovering over the mining colony planet Aegis VII, disconcertingly radio silent. A technobabble issue involving a tractor beam causes Isaac’s ship to crash-land into the hanger. They investigate what’s going on and well, as expected, all hell breaks loose when the infamous Necromorphs greet the new arrivals. Isaac is separated from the crew and soon makes use of mining tools like the beloved “plasma cutter” to engage the undead menace in a manner that continues to be novel as far as I know to this series: Don’t go for the head or the torso, go for the limbs. Only dismemberment can keep Isaac and anyone else alive. Sadly, evisceration from monsters big and small is just the beginning of their woes, and not even the worst.

Isaac’s quest for survival and escape all while keeping his fellow repair team alive and finding Nicole is made much more difficult by the fact that they’re not merely facing a zombie-like enemy, they’re up against a threat that is Lovecraftian. The source of the Necromorph infestation that has nearly wiped out or changed the Ishimura crew is an ancient artifact called the Marker, full of old, essentially eldritch knowledge with a psychic ability to slowly but surely affect and take over the minds of those in its vicinity. Isaac being the player character is hardly exempt from its horrifying influence. Not too late into the game do Isaac and the player start hearing and seeing things that are certainly not there.

One area where the Dead Space Remake does one-up the original is not so much in making it scarier though there are some tweaks here and there that do that, it’s in actually making the fall of the Ishimura and the colony below more of a tragedy, a sad tale to be echoed.

The fates of characters from the original game are altered, not to save them from a death but make their ends more tinged with sorrow. One character even manages to live much longer than their original role but that character’s lengthier survival is capped off with an utterly cruel gut punch. It’s a change that also arguably resolves a plot hole from the original game that reinforces the insidiousness of what the Marker and its power can do to Isaac and dwindling company.

While I was rarely truly frightened by any one moment in the original Dead Space titles, the new take on the first game here does more to instill a sense of growing dread, placing players old and new in familiar scenarios that are made a little more oppressive. A tweak seen early on is in how Isaac and the player have to reroute power for an area of the ship to progress. In order to turn on power for a room that you need to reach, you have turn off the lights, submerging the location in a darkness inkier than anything the original game could manage. You now have to navigate by flashlight and your established sense of the place all while the Necromorphs make their move on you undeterred by the change in ambience.

Other changes, some subtle and some not, make this Ishimura not only more real but more of a genuine haunted house that’s out to get you. That Isaac gets to speak now when he was made a mute protagonist in the original (mute save for the grunts, gasps, moans and screams) adds to the sense of not so much putting yourself in Isaac’s place but of being an actor controlling an Isaac who has a distinct personality, retroactively formed by who he was in the sequels to be.

This Isaac is an all-around nice guy, appropriately an everyman where only his expert engineering know-how and the tools that come with them give him a chance at surviving his stay on his girlfriend’s place of work. When it comes to addressing Isaac and his search for Nicole on the ship, I imagine first time players who haven’t been spoiled to the game’s plot over the last fifteen years will pick up or not fall for the twist involving the latter’s fate. It’s almost done in a way where your foreknowledge of events is taken into account. There’s instead a twist on the twist since the original reveal is too easy to see through by this point.

Many will compare Dead Space 2023 to Dead Space 2008 of course and many will also compare it to contemporary remakes like for fellow horror titles such as the excellent 2019 Resident Evil 2 and not so excellent 2020 Resident Evil 3. This March and April will the same probably be done for the 2023 Resident Evil 4. I think the focus of comparing remakes should go to the often re-released 2002 Remake of the very first Resident Evil.

The 2002 take on RE1 is often acclaimed as being one of the best entries in its franchise, an improvement and surpasser of the 1996 original and possibly the single best example of survival horror, in which your resources and management of them in a dangerous, explorable environment is key to success. Resident Evil 02′ is a faithful second take that builds more than cuts from the original experience, giving you new puzzles, enemies, areas to explore and lore to digest. It’s bigger without becoming unwieldy and too disparate from the classic version.

The 2023 Dead Space appears to be echoing the first Resident Evil Remake as much as Dead Space itself is a riff on RE4’s design. It makes the Ishimura bigger, with more to explore and discover either to your delight or horror. How Isaac accesses new parts of the Ishimura is different. In the original, each new deck of the ship was reached through the ship’s trams system, each chapter bookended with a tram ride. Now, most sections of the ship Isaac must first reach on foot through new maintenance corridors, having to unlock the stations for future use later on. This plays up how unlike the original, you can revisit decks you’ve been to already. Whether it be because you have gained security clearance for a locker or room you didn’t have before or because you straight up missed something the first time, the Ishimura is a more organic place because it no longer locks you off from it like before.

Adding in side missions, which offer both new insight into how the Ishimura fell and lots of very welcome goodies to improve your chances of survival also contribute to an Ishimura that feels like an increasingly open place, in spite of the claustrophobic halls and ravenous creatures seeking you out. It’s bigger, more reflective of the actual size of the place you’re in but it’s not so big and extended that it drags the just as tight, anxious pacing of the original. In other words, it reflects the expansion of Resident Evil 1’s Spencer Mansion in making it a matter of,yes, more can actually be more. RE’s original mansion and now DS’s original Ishimura now feel smaller, though the atmospheres they introduced to players back in the day have not dissipated.

One more aspect that has made the once met-with-skepticism remake for Dead Space much more applauded by both critic and player is the remarkable amount of new detail given to matters big and small. When Isaac is severely injured, on the verge of death even, Gunner Wright, Isaac’s VA says the same lines he’s given but in a strained, tense tone reflecting his tenuous physical state. After Isaac becomes prone to damage in any way can Isaac’s manner of stating dialogue change at that point. The script is always the same, how it’s said is altered until you get his health back up.

The use of Isaac’s heartbeat in the original games was a brilliant way to reflect back on the player the sense of tension you should probably feel when in danger. That is, if the loud, angry monsters and blaring soundtrack wasn’t enough to have you stand at attention. Now, the use of Isaac’s heartbeat is affected not only by whether Isaac’s in combat or in dire straits, but by how Isaac is affected by something straight up spooking or startling him. The jump scares or fake out scares can also cause a rise in Isaac’s heart-rate which could very well now echo you the player. This along with other hiding in plain sight details makes this seemingly meant at first to be corporate reboot of an old property feel like a labor of love from the new developers Motive. Taking what worked before and instead of fixing it, enhancing it.

They’re changes in the sense that they’re new obstacles for the player to face so that returning veterans to the series will be left with some new surprises and challenges to overcome, all without overriding the course of events that will still play out basically as they did in 2008. The characterization of some of the story’s players have been changed though the places they end up in will be retained. I can’t give any hints as to who changed and why because that is something I would like left for you to discover. One change actually improves a really annoying sequence from the original that can be best described as a turret section from a flash game and is made into a new, less frustrating yet still strenuous challenge that gives you things to focus on rather than “shoot enough X fast enough to win”.

I wasn’t thinking this was going to happen a mere year ago, let alone when the remake was announced, but Dead Space has re-emerged as one of the preeminent interactive horror experiences out there. Now, the mostly uncontested Resident Evil series has some competition, let alone in the Remake department. I don’t know how far that matter of re-imagining old titles will go and if it will indeed go too far. While people seem pretty OK now with Dead Spaces 2 and 3 being given another moment in the spotlight and RE4’s return is awaited with at worst cautious optimism, what will be next? Will the either hated or polarizing Resident Evils 5 and 6 also be given this treatment? Can Dead Space 3 be made or rethought into a better game? Will truly unneeded Remakes emerge and make us regret we had ever encouraged this from developers and publishers?

I don’t know, but for now, by and large Resident Evil and Dead Space looking back at the past are horrifying us in all the right ways.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (some implied spoilers, take heed.)

Image by Hollywood Reporter (Kang isn’t what Scott should be worrying about. What people think of his cinematic universe now should.)

I would like to start off this discussion of the 31st MCU movie by staying that it’s title is pretty much a misnomer. Rather than Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, it should be called Ant-Man: Quantumania, Ant-Man and Kang: Quantumania or Ant-Man v Kang: Dawn of Secret Wars. One thing that should clue you in to how unwieldy at best this beginning to Phase 5 is that one of the titular characters of the movie is an afterthought in terms of character arc and overall role in this movie.

Sure, by the third act, Evangeline Lily’s Hope van Dyne ala The Wasp is contributing to fighting not so much Kang the Conqueror but a Kang the Conqueror though I suppose that distinction is essentially, purposefully irrelevant. But that can’t make up for the fact that what was the first titular female hero in the MCU lineup feels like supporting rather than lead character. You could technically argue that a Wasp, the first one: Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) plays a significant role but that can’t make up for this disorderly use of characters, especially as we grow increasingly restless of Marvel being disorderly when that is the thing we are craving almost more than anything from Marvel Studios not to be.

In this third installment of the Pym/VanDyne/Lang family drama, Scott Lang is enjoying well-earned fame for being one of the key players in Thanos’ defeat and the restoration of half of all life in the universe. Not bad for a semi-professional thief. His girlfriend and fellow superhero Hope is restoring the trust and success of her parents’ company all while being a rich corporate figure who actually does care about the little guy unlike in my reality. Well, I guess hanging out and literally being able to become a little gal would make her inclined to be uncharacteristically altruistic in spite of her class and status. Again, superpowers are hardly the only fantasy often at play in a superhero medium.

Life appears swell, sweller than it’s been for everyone in Scott’s family and friend’s circle though his group of thief friends led by Manny, Michael Pena’s character, are strangely absent and even unacknowledged outright. That might be because Tip T.I. Harrington, who played one of Scott’s thief friends had been accused of committed a serious real-life crime and thus that entire element of Scott Lang’s life is jettisoned from the movie, maybe for good. But who needs them when the overbearing needs of a cinematic universe’s trajectory is just so important?

This is bitterly ironic of me to say, some could argue hypocritical as one of the chief complaints of Marvel’s Phase 4 was a lack of direction or focus when it came to establishing what will be the overarching goal and/or threat. The first phase from between 2008 and 2012 set up the first batch of Avengers as well as more subtly the Infinity Stone macguffins that will become the definitive target for both hero and villain come phase 3.

Yes, it would be a lie to say that no setup for what “The Multiverse Saga” consisting of phases 4-6 will be occurred in the Fourth Phase. The Multiverse and its potential was given some exploration through the second Doctor Strange, the third Tom Holland Spider-Man and the first seasons of What If? and Loki. Kang himself and him being a being of many, many different entities through many different universes was established in Loki Season One. Here’s hoping you have or had DisneyPlus all so you would know who Kang was by now though to be fair Ant-Man 3 doesn’t do a poor job of (re)introducing Kang to an audience and some won’t even mind that there was some “homework” to be had due to Jonathan Majors’ standout performance.

Majors as Kang is often called the standout reason why Ant-Man 3 is even worth your time, including from critics and viewers who didn’t think much of the film. He’s so great that I will just come out and say it now that I am still willing to engage in the MCU further because there’s a guarantee that Kang will be there. Hearing that may make you enthusiastic or relieved but here it is time to pump the brakes again.

It is rather stunning to me how little I really found myself caring about Scott Lang and his family as they found themselves accidentally transported into the titular Quantum Realm. It’s stunning because I did care much more when I was hanging out with them in the first two Ant-movies or their appearance in Avengers Endgame. To be fair, I did kinda find myself caring somewhat about Scott if only due to Paul Rudd’s almost universally infectious charm. I have heard of people that can’t stand Paul Rudd no matter what they see him in but I’m not in that class of people clearly. Then again, my exposure to Rudd’s work outside of Marvel ain’t that strong so maybe he could get on my nerves in the right movie.

Rudd’s Lang gets the best moments not involving Kang directly out of the group of heroes. One of the best visual set-pieces directly involves Lang interacting with a Wobbly Wobbly, Time-Wimey device of Kang’s as it causes countless versions of Scott to apparate one after the other, all based on the various probable versions of Scott’s life. Of all things, it reminded me of Calvin and Hobbes’ Calvin and his Transmogrification machine which creates many troublesome duplicates of himself. Being reminded of Calvin and Hobbes is surely no sin on this movie’s part.

So I guess I was being dishonest when I said Kang was the only (surviving) character from this movie that I would want to see after Quantumania. Then again, Rudd’s disarming take on Lang can only take us so far when the story and fellow characters he’s with are so underbaked by comparison, just as irritating when they weren’t that way before.

The worst offender isn’t Lilly’s Hope vanDyne in truth. At least what she had done before this movie can count in her favor. It’s poor Cassie Lang. In the third casting of Scott’s daughter, Kathryn Newton is brought along almost certainly to portray that character going forward, such as in the upcoming Avengers movies. The first teen actress to portray her in Avengers Endgame, Emma Fuhrmann, was perfectly fine in the limited role she had there. Maybe it was due to her not being physically right for the more martial role Cassie has in this installment, but Fuhrmann was replaced with Newton and her performance in turn was not unlike an wet blanket. Yes, that old chestnut description.

Sure, you could argue that the material she was given was most responsible here. Maybe you’re right, but how is it that Majors, Rudd and Janet vanDyne’s Michelle Pffeifer pull off better performances with the same bad material? I think that they’re above average to exceptional performances at all here goes against Newton as an actress. It certainly suggests ill portents for Cassie’s role in future MCU appearances in terms of my investment.

Another way to suggest the “problem” with Ant-Man 3 and our heroes’ journey to confront and defeat Kang is that very little of what character arc Scott and company have is present. In a manner eerily similar to what befell many DCEU movies, the heroes and villains are at the mercy of the big picture over their own individual arcs. Sure, their arcs should intertwine with the big picture, but that balance that was much more strongly felt in earlier Marvel phases isn’t here.

Some have suggested the mostly bad or uneven state of the MCU is a result of Marvel with its Heads and writers becoming overconfident over the literal billions they’ve made over the first decade of this cinematic venture. After the “googly moogly” money that Avengers Endgame alone made, then the audience would welcome anything they brought to them going forward. I imagine the diminishing box office returns especially in the second weekends recent Marvel films have had must be getting Feige and the rest just a little bit sweaty I would hope.

Feige has admitted to “overload” when it comes to the distribution of MCU TV on Disneyplus if nothing else. A lightening of the MCU load in one department will certainly be welcome and the CGI artists no doubt are already grateful for the sentiment, so long as its put into motion. As for the movies, which are still viewed as the big attractions for the venture, well it stands to reason they should take their own advice as Tony Stark suggested: be better.

We are not dealing with Marvel’s best, even on a technical level. The quality of the CGI itself has become questioned on the big screen. Last year’s Thor Love and Thunder had some questionable implementation of V/FX in many but not all places and the third Ant-Man has some shoddy use of both CG and green-screen which does not do the movie many favors in convincingly transporting us the audience into an alien world existing inside the subatomic level of reality. For a movie where the Quantum Realm has taken the highest precedence thus far, the first two Ant-Man movies have more wondrous, intriguing depictions.

How it goes about with addressing it as a distinct civilization from ours or others in the MCU also suffers through either a lack of imagination or poor execution of what imaginative world-building there actually is. Some sights that are shown aren’t all that bad let alone in concept yet something always felt frustratingly “off” about how it was ultimately presented.

There are moments of fun, even intrigue in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. There are also moments of “been there, done that” or “That’s sorta new, but also not all that good” too. It really is one of the most mixed bags you could have at this point in a universe struggling to keep itself going in a manner that elicits excitement. Part of me thinks great things could still be ahead, another more cynical part thinks the peak is in the past. Another part of me, maybe the strongest part thinks it’s a fusion of both opinions. I can also say that what is here could’ve been done a whole lot better, meaningfully.

In a rather morose sense, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania simultaneously suggests hope and despair for this ongoing cinematic project, much like how many have two dissonant feelings about the state of the world around us, one day one feeling is stronger than the other. I’m old enough and wise enough to know that it’s not just me thinking that.

Now, how about a selection of music that’s all about that prescient worldview?

Gorillaz: Cracker Island

Image from Animation Magazine (No one mixes melancholy with joy like these creations from the Tank Girl guy.)

Gorillaz, a long running collaborative work between Brit-pop legend Damon Albarn of Blur and Jamie Hewlett, the Canadian artist of Tank Girl, is itself a glorious celebration of musical collaboration. How taking artists from disparate forms of musical genre and splicing together tracks that strangely, miraculously become bangers.

Two of the cartoon band’s most well-known pieces, “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good Inc.” fuse Rap/Hip-Hop with Rock and Pop into brilliant pieces of work which as far as I am aware are idiosyncratic masterpieces. Individual elements of their music are certainly familiar. Of course they are, as it is very difficult to create a new genre or sound wholesale and Albarn knows it. It’s that foreknowledge that the disparate parts are familiar and yet how they mix together like a fine stew is what makes and will always make Gorillaz tick with me and millions more.

The eighth (though in my heart seventh) album of my favorite band, having long since overtaken U2 is perhaps the most sorrowful work done yet while still against all laws of probability avoiding becoming a depressing listen. Gorillaz through Albarn’s beautiful vocals makes not exactly uplifting lyrics and themes consistently addicting for me to hear. It could be that the rhythm, the feel of the music is so engaging, so wonderful that it can belie the less than happy intention of what is being stated. Sort of like how an accurate to life war movie or show can seem exciting, adventurous almost, even if the details are distressingly correct.

Cracker Island, like every prior album, acts as a time capsule to the time in which it was being recorded. While you can call this record a record of 2023, it’s more so an emotional chronicle of 2021 and 2022 for Albarn and friends. One of the key themes I can derive is a sense of being trapped in the modern world, isolated in spite of being on a planet of now 8 billion people. Wondering if anything we absorb culturally that is new is good or worth our time. Earlier Gorillaz albums and tracks have expressed this sentiment. The first album’s “Tomorrow Comes Today” had the lyric “The Digital won’t let me go.” That song debuted in 2000. 23 years later, the song and its very name sounds like one of the most accurate predictions Gorillaz has ever performed.

The title track suggests many things. There is the in-universe story of the Gorillaz band which acts as a self-description of their predicament. Their founder and oldest member Murdoc has made the band part of a cult, The Forever Cult, and the music video is about the other members: singer 2D, Drummer Russell and Guitarist and my favorite Noodle trying to escape. Other music videos suggest Murdoc himself is aware he has gone too far this time and Murdoc has been the token evil member since Day One.

Without a full summary of the goings on for the band’s wacky, surreal misadventures, I can’t give you a fully accurate summation but the story of the foursome is all set dressing for the themes the song themselves are meant to have independent of the Gorillaz lore.

The songs, 11 in all with the last being a piano version of an earlier song, make a consistent point about not the political, economic or even cultural reality of the early 2020s we’re experiencing, but a psychological point. How about above all other manners, how tired we are. We’re tired of the celebrity culture, of the once enraging but now wearying inaction on so many pressing matters from those in power. To wondering if there is any point to the culture we consume. If the world is going down from either our self-inflicted actions or inactions, what is the point if there is no light at the tunnel’s end?

More than a few songs, such as my favorite “Silent Running”, are not about fighting for a better world to occur, but just hoping it will someday just happen. Earlier Gorillaz songs and albums end on a somewhat hopeful note in spite of the doomsday tone. 2017’s Humanz album literally ends in the vanilla version with a song called “We Got the Power.”

In spite of it all, the last original song, “Possession Island” does end on a note that is optimistic only in the sense that no matter what happens going forward: good, bad or somewhere in-between, we are in this together. That in turn is a reflection of how earlier tracks also express another thematic sentiment, of us craving for something more sociable, in some kind of unity that is meaningful.

The track “Oil” featuring Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks is pleading internally about finding someone close. It’s not strictly sexual, romantic or fraternal. It can be any of these things so long as it doesn’t end up being none of them. The aforementioned “Silent Running” literally gives its theme away if you know the definition of the term. Like a submarine quietly, purposefully trying not to give itself away to anyone, so many people, myself included, drift through life without attempting to form connection. Why? Is it fear? Anxiety? Afraid of being hurt? Our often digital addictions? Likely all of the above or maybe something else particular to yourself.

Perhaps that is where the cult stuff comes in, in ironic fashion. People who often end up in cults are those who have no direction, no purpose, no strong connection to someone other than themself. Out of desperation, they search for a community to belong to and in doing so, they are ensnared in something just as bad if not worse than where they were before.

Now look back at the world and look at anything remotely cult-like. Qanon, MAGA, The Andrew Tate fan-base, incels in general. Those are just some groups that can be construed as having cult-like tendencies or maybe even structure to boot. Not every person who ends up in those communities is necessarily a lonely, purpose starved guy or gal. In some cases, meaningful connections those people had are severed, sometimes beyond repair by entering those cults.

Among being musically enjoyable pieces of work, Cracker Island can be considered about the search for both a true escape from the dystopic circumstances we find ourselves in while also finding connections, closeness with others without falling into a new nightmare of a cult. That even in spite of the danger, we should try all the same.

For something marginally less heavy, you can also see the selection of music Albarn and his cartoon buddies have come up with as mental, musical salves for the increasing pressures of the world. That was the case for me a decade ago when I first exposed myself to Gorillaz in 2012, through coming across their music on Pandora studying at my charter high school in Florida.

Every Gorillaz album worth its salt and that’s almost all of them are that to me. In spite of the not necessarily hopeful outlook Albarn has nowadays (why would he?), he still finds a way to vent through his creation of this work, working alongside other artists to reach at the least a temporary catharsis from it all. I let Cracker Island, as short as it is, wash over me, letting it’s feelings reflect back on my own. Almost as if the album is trying to form a connection with me.

Has Cracker Island become my new favorite album? No, 2010’s mesmerizing Plastic Beach and 2018’s The Now Now’s somber yet sunny aesthetic are still my favorites. Nevertheless, several tracks from Cracker Island are on their way towards becoming some of my favorites. “Silent Running”, “New Gold” and “Baby Queen” refuse to fully leave my head in the days since the album’s launch though those songs premiered well beforehand.

Taken as a whole, Cracker Island is a swift yet effective medley about the time and place we live in. Decades from now and I speak quite optimistically of what the state of the world and my life will be by then, Cracker Island might make me nostalgic for a year that already I’m not fond of. Then again, I imagine any year a Gorillaz album released would also make a like-minded fan nostalgic for that year too. 2001, 2005, 2010, 2017, 2018, 2020 and so on. All in spite of how Albarn was melodically mourning those same years, those same timez.

Originally posted 2023-03-06 03:59:41.

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