Gorillaz’ Cracker Island and Auto-Tuned Truth

Ryan Guerra

Technology can be exhausting. My phone connects me with nonstop news and noise. It can be tiring and even depressing. Is there any substance in what is presented to me? Is this information helping me grow in knowledge or wisdom? Or is my mind jumping from story to story, outrage to outrage, seeking meaning and finding nothing? Similar questions are asked on Cracker Island, the new album from the collaborative music project known as Gorillaz.

Conceived in 1998 by musician Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett—and “fronted” by a collection of animated characters—Gorillaz’ sound has been defined by Albarn and his diverse array of guest contributors over the years. When I saw that Cracker Island featured the likes of Stevie Nicks, Beck, Tame Impala, and Bad Bunny, I knew the album was going to be special. It did not disappoint. With influences ranging from alt-rock and electronic to Latin and hip hop, it’s hard to narrow down the style of the album. Songs like “Silent Running,” “Baby Queen,” and “Tormenta” are high points. Each song stands out on its own, but they also work together as a whole. I find myself listening to it while exercising, driving, or even working. I can focus on the music or focus elsewhere. A true sweet spot.

Albarn’s singing has always felt casual in its delivery, like a beach-time vibe; with this album it sounds like he has really hit a groove among the bass lines and pop melodies. Almost every song has me bobbing my head while listening or humming along. Each instrument complements the other, with heavy synths, bass, and drums pushing forward the voices and rhythms of each song. Albarn’s lyrics have always had greater implications than the standard pop song. On Cracker Island the songs ask, “Is this all society has to offer?” and “What is it all for?” Sometimes these questions are framed subtly and sometimes directly—always moving the attentive listener to think.

When I scroll through social media for the nth time, the lyrics of “Silent Running (feat. Adeleye Omotayo)” come to mind: “There’s no way out of here / No way out / In the labyrinth, I disappeared . . . I got caught up in nowhere again.” I'm caught up in an inescapable loop of scrolling, reading status after status, meme after meme.

The words from “The Tired Influencer” ring true when I’m posting something online and ask myself, “Is this how I want to be seen?” “Ain’t sleeping deep / Waiting for an answer / Gotta press on, brown eyes / I always keep you close beside me / Billing trees / That’s the way it’s meant to be.” The singer keeps their phone nearby, assuming their followers are waiting for the next answer to life’s questions. Much like the influencer, I put pressure on myself to post things that have meaning or relevance. But are my updates my own reality or a caricature I’ve created to be relevant?

It’s not only social media where this is a problem. Every news app I have shows me what it thinks I want to see. It builds a world around me with the answers that the app’s algorithm thinks I want to hear. “They were planting seeds at night / To grow a made up Paradise / Where the truth was auto-tuned / And its sadness I consumed” (“Cracker Island feat. Thundercat.”)

Technology can be exhausting.

It definitely feels like technology connects us to things that aren’t real. I am constantly told what is right and what is wrong. People are peddling solutions for likes, votes, and book deals. Every social account is vying for my attention. Every advertisement is curated and bought because of what I have clicked on in the past. I cannot run from it. As soon as I turn on any screen I’m inundated and I get caught up in whatever is loudest.

However, “Possession Island (feat. Beck)” brings a valuable clarity to help us push through the noise. It reminds me I am not alone in this world, yet it also demands I must be vulnerable in exchange for the truth: “Should I ask you / For forgiveness / And open my heart? / If I say these words, will you listen? / Or leave me here in the dark?” For me, the way out from all the noise is the simple reminder that I need others in my life. I need the connections that take place apart from the online world. However, this comes at a risk. How will they react when they see who I truly am?

I must remember that God has placed wonderful people in my life to help build me, encourage me, and give me perspective. These relationships help me parse through what is real and what is fake. They can speak into my life what they see with their own eyes. And I can do the same for them. Most importantly, my fellow Christian friends can remind me of my true focus: Jesus. I admit, I can get caught up in the online world so much that I forget Jesus doesn’t work within such limitations. He works on his own time, through his own plan. I can find my rest as he carries my burdens. In a world where so much is placed on my shoulders, this is a lifeline.

God has created a huge beautiful world. I can miss this if I’m filling my time with all the noise on my phone. When I focus on him, I’m reminded how every day is a blessing and every breath comes from his grace. There is so much to enjoy in this world outside; I need to open my eyes to it.

When I do I’m reminded of the wonderful realities I get to experience in my life.

The smile of my girls.

The joys of corporate worship.

A good conversation over coffee.

Listening to a new Gorillaz album while driving to work.

There is so much in God’s world that is real and beautiful, but I need to turn off the screen to marvel at it.

Topics: Music