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CD OF THE WEEK:Gorillaz, Plastic BeachEMI ****

It’s a sprawl, but a beautiful sprawl. Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett did say they wanted to work with an “incredibly eclectic and surprising cast of people”.

For Plastic Beach, their third Gorillaz album, they have assembled one of the weirdest line-ups ever. Who else would think of getting Mark E Smith, Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Gruff Rhys, a Lebanese orchestra, Bobby Womack and half of The Clash onto the same recording? Plastic Beachand its 16 tracks will undoubtedly go on to become a contemporary White Album.

An orchestral scene-setter gives way to the first track proper, Welcome to the Plastic Beach, which sounds like Gil Scott-Heron on the Stax Records label but is really Snoop Dogg telling us how “the revolution will not be televised”. Then it’s a complete left-turn then to White Flag, a Middle Eastern swirl of a song with Kano and Bashy providing its hip-hop core.

It’s this sort of searching for musical pressure points that informs most of the work here. The album is a constant collision of sounds and rhythms, with Albarn and Hewlitt evidently emboldened by the success of their sublime Monkey: Journey to the Westalbum from three years ago.

Stylo, the first single, is an obvious highlight, with Albarn’s restrained vocals counterpointed by Mos Def and a shockingly good Bobby Womack intrusion. Like most of the tracks, it is enveloped in an electronic fug of sounds that veer from the pure pop end of the spectrum into more oblique positionings.

At times Plastic Beachfeels like some big tribute concert, as the big names follow another in quick succession: Mark E Smith asks “Where’s north from here?” on the electro clash-flavoured Glitter Freeze. Lou Reed deadpans his way through the bouncy Some Kind of Nature, and Mick Jones and Paul Simenon get psychedelic on the trippy title track.

Best of all is Womack’s plaintive contribution to Cloud of Unknowing (with the artist soudning like he’s taking the Horace Andy place on a Massive Attack album). Away from all the cameos, Albarn and Hewitt register strongly with the relatively straightforward – and surprisingly jaunty – On a Melancholy Hill.

This is a Lernaean Hydra of an album. It displays a colossal sense of ambition and it succeeds in scaling some vertiginous heights. It contains some of the most exhilaratingly different music you’ll hear all year. It’s a freakout on an Oceanic daydream. See gorillaz.com

Download tracks: Cloud of Unknowing, On a Melancholy Hill