Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Casio on the Plastic Beach

On the third day of the third month of 2010, Damon Albarn released his delightfully poppy and hauntingly insightful album "Plastic Beach". The album is unified by a single concept, with several underlying themes. As stated in the title of the album, Albarn imagined an island that was composed nearly entirely of plastic detritus that has washed on shore and accumulated. Albarn began imagining this album after visiting the Mali landfill, and seeing the unimaginable mountains of garbage that has gathered there. To virgin ears, "Plastic Beach" has a similar format to the two previous releases by Albarn, including synthesizer melodies, Jamaican baselines, and appearances by alternative rappers. As you delve deeper into the album, you can observe intriguing social commentary. In the fourth song (Rhinestone Eyes), Albarn states

"Helicopters fly over the beach.

Same time every day, same routine.

Clear target in summer when skies are blue.

It's part of the noise when winter comes,

It reverberates in my lungs.

Nature's corrupted in factories far away."

This lyric identifies the problem associated with the tendency of advanced capitalist societies to outsource environmentally degrading industries, and the deleterious effect this has on developing countries that house these firms. The lyrical content of the sixth song, "Superfast Jellyfish", is also very telling of Albarn's agenda (but in this song he isn't the one singing it). The first verse of the song goes as follows:

"Yo, pretty packages of frosted delights
Look, it comes with a toy hehe, I like that.
I wanna number 4, a number 6, and throw in a plastic doughnut
Just enjoy the gritty crunch, it tastes just like chicken.
Wrappers of many bit sizes
Man, are you freakin blind? That’s a rock.
All mixed in the pot for momma’s homemade from scratch, well, not quite.
Toasted over flames, they be tasting quite right.
All hail king Neptune and his water breathers
No snail thing to quick for his water feeders
Don’t waste time with your net, our net worth is set
Ready, go. Many know others,
but we be the colors of the mad and the wicked
we be bad, we be break it with the 24 hour sign
shower my habits while you dine like rabbits
with the crunchy, crunchy carrots (that’s chicken)
Gotta have it Superfast."

This song describes and pokes fun at the current state of consumerism in America (as well as other advanced capitalist societies). Observations clearly show that people are often willing to sacrifice nutrition (and in my opinion taste) for speed and convenience in regards to food. Although this song is dealing primarily with the desire to have food instantly, it is applicable to most commodified goods. As our society progresses, and we continue to be oversaturated with information our attention spans continue to shrink. By being able to offer consumers products nearly instantly, people no longer need to wait before making a purchase. This strategy employed by firms increases the chance that people will make impulse purchases, thus consuming more. The rest of the album is full of example of social commentary that all seem to point to the same thing: we are becoming a species whose defining characteristic is overconsumption.


  1. I downloaded that album when it came out and never paid attention to the lyrics- now I know!

  2. The issue simply of geographical space for dumps in the U.S. is becoming an increasing concern. Plastics that take hundreds of years to biodegrade face much longer residence times given the physical properties of dumps (lack of sunlight, water, wind, and general exposure to the elements to facilitate biodegradability). However, technologies which convert trash into energy are being developed, and seem a necessary means to reduce the sheer amount of garbage in the world.

  3. I think this is a very innovative and cool approach to spreading awareness about environmental issues. It is enjoyable art with a hidden motive. A large problem with gaining awareness about environmental problems is merely not being able to educate the general public about these issues, or not being able to encourage people to abandon their apathetic attitude toward the environment. We need more innovative people to take uniqe approaches with an environment-centered theme, like this band, in order to combat both these problems.

  4. I am encouraged by the awareness of environmental issues in other arenas of our society. I am skeptical at the impact though. Hopefully more avenues to increase awareness like this album will make a fringe topic mainstream.


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