Tech PRose

February 4, 2011

A Crash Course in Dog Food and Mobile Retailing

Filed under: B2B,Kristen Rose Miller,Reviews,Social Media,Technology Industry — techimage @ 11:05 am

I recently attended the NRF’s Retail BIG Show in NYC and no surprise, everybody was talking mobile. From social media to shopping on smartphones to swiping smartphones to pay for purchases, the message was clear: “Hey Retailers, amp your mobile functionality or consumers will leave you in the dust.”

The topic of mobile retailing is also finding a home in mainstream media. A recent article by the Wall Street Journal’s Miguel Bustillo and Ann Zimmerman titled “Phone Wielding Shoppers Strike Fear Into Retailers” posed the threat that instant price transparency via smartphones was changing the game of retailing.

As a smartphone-touting consumer, specifically a Droid 2, do I pose a threat to retailers? Is Target or Macy’s shaking in their boots trying to win my business? Not likely; however, the article did mention a specific app, TheFind, that prompts a smartphone camera to scan a product barcode and display matching products at various merchants at varying prices. Thereby, at a glance, allowing a shopper to determine the lowest price.

So, I downloaded the free app and gave it a shot…see below for my test subject (no, not the animal itself…)

Figure A                                                                                                                      Figure B

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Percy. Figure A represents Percy as a baby Rottweiler. Figure B illustrates how all 80-lbs of Percy looks today. In order to get from Figure A to Figure B, it took a lot of dog food. Specifically, Iams Smart Puppy Large Breed Dog Food.  I purchase 17.5 lb bags at Target where typical retail price is $18.99. During my last Target visit, I used TheFind app to scan the product barcode. Within seconds, the app was displaying varying prices of the exact dog food available at other merchants. I was relieved to see that other retailers such as Walmart and pet supply stores were $1-$3 dollars higher. Only one store, Meijer, offered the food cheaper ($17.99) but since there isn’t a Meijer close to my home, my purchasing at Target was reaffirmed.

Case in point, consumers willing to embrace emerging retail technologies put themselves in the driver’s seat. Gone are the days of making siloed purchase decisions on product OR price. Being committed to a specific product no longer means you’re a slave to a standard price. Do your research. Be informed. Retailers, more than ever, are willing to compete and work for your every dollar. Enjoy your newfound power (while stimulating the economy.)

— By Kristen Rose Miller

January 31, 2011

Bears QB injury shows the ugly side of Twitter

Filed under: Ken Krause,Marketing & Public Relations,Reviews,Social Media — techimage @ 5:05 pm

Technology marketers who continue to believe that what happens on social media outlets such as Twitter doesn’t matter can learn a lesson from Jay Cutler. The Chicago Bears quarterback injured his knee late in the second quarter of the NFC title game against the Green Bay Packers. He returned to the field briefly at the start of the third quarter, then sat out the rest of the game.

The event itself wasn’t particularly unusual. Football is a violent, brutal game, and nowhere is it more violent and brutal than the NFL. Players are hurt and sit the rest of the game out all the time.
What was unusual was the instant reaction that followed. Ordinary fans, former players and even current players began bashing Cutler for being a wimp almost immediately. They wondered how he could abandon his teammates in the midst of a title game, questioned his motives, his courage and his very manhood. Before you knew it – and before any of us knew the actual extent of his injury – there was a huge firestorm of popular sentiment on the Internet, most of it decidedly anti-Cutler.

What’s interesting, of course, is that the trauma of him sitting out the second half completely overshadowed the fact that he was completely ineffective the first half when he was playing, missing wide-open receivers and generally not looking like a quarterback who was going to lead his team to the Super Bowl. There wasn’t much being said about that, and certainly the media didn’t pick up on what may have been said. But sit out with an injury? That’s national news.

That’s the way it goes in these days of the groundswell. One relatively minor event suddenly blows up and before you know it your company is distracted trying to defend itself from all sorts of wild accusations.

You don’t have to worry much about an MCL sprain to your CEO. But you should be concerned with a frustrated customer who can’t reach anyone in customer service, or doesn’t feel he got a straight answer when he did. A Tweet here, a YouTube video there, and suddenly you could be facing a maelstrom of your own.

Just ask the people at United Airlines. A search on their name on YouTube produces this video as the #1 result, which is not exactly how they want you to think of them. It goes a long way toward undoing millions, maybe even billions, of dollars of advertising and public relations.
Now that the social media genie is out of the bottle there’s no putting him back. Smart companies realize that and prepare for it. They monitor what’s being said about them all the time, and they respond quickly – in many cases even thanking the person who brought the problem to their attention.

That’s where the Bears really fell down. While the speculation about Cutler’s toughness was running wild, there was nothing from the Bears camp to quell it. The word from the sidelines was that Cutler’s knee was “hurt.” What they should’ve said was “it appears to be a sprain, and maybe even torn. We won’t know for sure until the MRI tomorrow.” Instead, they played it close to the vest and let him twist in the wind.

Technology marketers need to learn from that. In this day of instant communication, be honest and transparent. If there is a problem, admit it and say what steps you’re taking to remedy it. If you’re not sure of the cause, say you’re not sure, but you’re aware and have the right people working on it.
Whatever you do, don’t let the masses run amok. In reality the damage to Cutler is temporary – a couple of good wins and it’s all forgotten. But for your company it could have much longer-lasting effects.

Know what conversations are happening around your company and your industry, and be a part of them. Because they’re going to happen whether you’re a part of them or not.

— by Ken Krause

January 20, 2011

Review: Flip Video Mino HD (8GB)

Filed under: Christine Rojewski,Reviews — crojewski @ 2:53 pm

I’ll admit, since the Flip Video was introduced I have been anxiously waiting to get my hands on one. But after learning my lesson from splurging on the first generation iPhone, I decided to wait for at least the next generation before buying. Well, about four years after market launch, I finally purchased the 8G Flip Mino HD.

Since this is my first video camera since my 2002 Sony DCRTRV340, the size of the Flip isn’t the only thing that astonished me, so did the clarity of the video. It’s amazing that the precision of something the size of my iPod outshines a camera more than triple its size.

While I think the Flip lacks in a few areas (focus, options, settings, greater zoom and the several steps it takes to delete a video from the device), it’s expected since the device so small and thin. It has a very sleek design that’s extremely easy to use with a one-touch design that reminds me of a child’s first phone. The videos are easily uploaded to your computer via the flip USB on the top of the device. The manufactured uploaded software works with both Mac and Windows which is a huge plus for many users.

Waiting four years after the launch to buy the Flip has also paid off, since I was able to buy a unit with double the record time and storage. Its also now equipped with image stabilization – what I feel is a must for any video recording – and it records at 60 frames per second.

After first charging the Flip I tested it in two areas: my home- which was lit by natural light at the time of taping- and outside in the dark. After noticing how crisp the image was during playback, my initial reaction was toward the sound. Again, seeing as the device fits in the palm of my hand, I was surprised by how clear and loud the sound was. Both the bright and dark lighting proved not to be an issue for recording and viewing in either case. I thought for sure the night images would be difficult to view, but they weren’t. After uploading the videos to my PC, I was also happy to see how easy the editing software was to use, and the simplicity of video sharing via email and social networks.

I would say my two largest complaints about the Flip Mino HD are the lack of recording options (it’s almost too simple to use and navigate meaning several features are lost) and the rechargeable battery isn’t removable or replaceable (it can only be recharged when the USB is connected to your PC). But since I only bought the device for fun video capturing, it gets the job done nicely.

To check out all of the product specs visit http://store.theflip.com/en-us/products/MinoHD8GB2HR.aspx.

And here are a few links to reviews from the professionals … which go into much greater detail and testing than I think I ever could:

PC Mag http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2369938,00.asp

Maximum PC http://www.maximumpc.com/article/reviews/flip_video_minohd_8gb

— By Christine Rojewski

August 30, 2010

Whip It: Good

Filed under: Ken Krause,Reviews — techimage @ 2:36 pm

The other night, I was scanning through the cable movie guide when I saw that Whip It is now available. I remember being interested in seeing the film when it came out, but it was gone before I had the chance. Thankfully, the good folks at Comcast usually provide, sooner or later.

Lest you think this is a late-night Cinemax offering, Whip It is the story of how Bliss Cavendar (played with winning vulnerability by Ellen Page), a 17 year old diner waitress living in a small town near Austin, Texas finds herself in the small-time world of local roller derby.

Most of Bliss’ life (as well as her younger sister’s) has been spent on the Texas beauty pageant circuit. Her mother Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) is a former beauty queen herself, and she sees the pageant circuit as a way for her daughters to improve their lot in life while learning to become proper young ladies.

Bliss has no real interest in the competitions but is a good and dutiful daughter and goes along with it. Her father (Daniel Stern) is a big football fan and obviously wishes he had boys instead of girls. This is shown when he watches with envy as his neighbor pounds in a yard sign showing his sons’ names and their numbers on the local high school football team.

That is until she and her friend Pash (Alia Shawkat, Maebe from Arrested Development) shoot up to Austin one night and wind up watching a match between the Holy Rollers, the New York Yankees of Texas roller derby and the Hurl Scouts, the league’s doormats. Bliss is fascinated with the whole thing, and when Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) sees that, she suggests that Bliss attend open tryouts for the league the following week.

Of course, Bliss’ mother would be horrified if she knew her precious flower daughter was even considering getting into such a rough-and-tumble sport, so Bliss has to sneak out of town with Pash’s help to attend the tryout. At the tryouts she demonstrates tremendous speed, and gets placed on the Hurl Scouts, where her roller derby name is Babe Ruthless. Since the league requires all participants to be at least 18 years old, Bliss lies about her age, saying she is 22.

“21 sounds fake,” she tells Pash when asked why she said 22. “22 sounds more believable.”

From there the stage is set. Bliss meets a guy, becomes a star, and just when everything seems to be going her way it all falls apart.

Part of the tension of the movie comes from Babe Ruthless’ rivalry with Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis), the bad girl of the Holy Rollers as well as their number one jammer (point-scorer). She views Bliss as a threat – or is it merely gamesmanship to gain an advantage over a worthy opponent?

The tone of the movie is very quiet. It reminded me of Napoleon Dynamite and the little bit I’ve seen of that other Ellen Page vehicle Juno. We’re not talking larger-than-life action. The movie is really about relationships – between Bliss and her parents, her friend Pash, her boyfriend and her teammates on the Hurl Scouts. But first-time director Drew Barrymore does a great job of keeping those relationships real while still injecting fun into the story. (Every time she appears on-screen as Smashley Simpson she ups the energy level considerably.)

Everything about this movie feels genuine, from the camaraderie of the team to the tensions between Bliss and her parents to the portrayal of life in a small, boring Texas town. Barrymore even resists the temptation to turn the roller derby matches into the types of action that can only be performed by super-athletes. Instead, it looks like average women stepping out of their everyday lives to do something they love. Which is as it should be.

If you get a chance, check it out. I think you’ll find you’ll feel good afterwards – without feeling manipulated.

— Reviewed by Ken Krause

June 25, 2010

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everyone Else

Filed under: Ken Krause,Reviews — techimage @ 2:42 pm

We’ve all sat and marveled at the top performers in their fields at one time or another, whether it’s Eddie Van Halen on guitar, Tiger Woods on the golf course or Jack Welch in the Boardroom. We see them and think, “Wow, it must be awesome to be born with that kind of talent. If only I had been so fortunate.”

Perhaps not, according to the book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everyone Else. This scholarly book cites recent research on high-performers in a variety of fields (as well as their lesser counterparts) to debunk the myths around talent. It shows what actually separates them is more their approach, their intensity and their dedication to whatever it is they ultimately excel at than any natural inclination toward that pursuit. Although it cites examples from the arts and sports, the book is really focused on the business world.

Early on in the book, author Geoff Colvin cites the example of one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The popular perception, no doubt fueled by the movie Amadeus, is that Mozart was a child prodigy who started producing incredible work at the age of five. Yes, he did start writing music then. But the book points out his father was also a composer, and research has shown he had more than a little hand in correcting his son’s work. Even at a later age, original manuscripts show that rather than hearing it all in his head and then writing it all down, Mozart made plenty of changes, additions and subtractions to his work. Just like anyone else.

Still, his work endures. If it wasn’t raw talent then what was it? That’s the central question the book seeks to answer.

The short answer is an incredible level of focus on their chosen field at an early age. World-class performers practice in a way that wouldn’t be considered fun. Generally, they work on one aspect of what they’re doing, over and over to a mind-numbing level, until they get it right. Then they work on the next thing. Compare that to the way most of us pursue things.

Golf presents a great example. The author points out how he will go to the practice range and hit a bucket of balls, working through various clubs one at a time. A Tiger Woods, however, will select one club and hit many buckets of balls, trying to learn how to make just one particular shot. If he is practicing and hits a sand trap, he’ll step on the ball to bury it deeper if he feels he needs to work on that shot.

So that’s the good news – with a sufficiently high work ethic it appears anyone can be a high-performer. Now for the bad news: most of that work needs to happen at a young age. According to Colvin, once people start hitting their adult years there are too many responsibilities and distractions to afford the kind of intensely focused time required to become a world-class performer.

Whether you agree with his premise or not, the book is a great read. It cites many examples of world class performers and what the did (as well as do) to be there. If you’re interested in what makes people tick, you’ll enjoy it.

Reviewed by — Ken Krause

Book review

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everyone Else

We’ve all sat and marveled at the top performers in their fields at one time or another, whether it’s Eddie Van Halen on guitar, Tiger Woods on the golf course or Jack Welch in the Boardroom. We see them and think, “Wow, it must be awesome to be born with that kind of talent. If only I had been so fortunate.”

Perhaps not, according to the book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everyone Else. This scholarly book cites recent research on high-performers in a variety of fields (as well as their lesser counterparts) to debunk the myths around talent. It shows what actually separates them is more their approach, their intensity and their dedication to whatever it is they ultimately excel at than any natural inclination toward that pursuit. Although it cites examples from the arts and sports, the book is really focused on the business world.

Early on in the book, author Geoff Colvin cites the example of one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The popular perception, no doubt fueled by the movie Amadeus, is that Mozart was a child prodigy who started producing incredible work at the age of five. Yes, he did start writing music then. But the book points out his father was also a composer, and research has shown he had more than a little hand in correcting his son’s work. Even at a later age, original manuscripts show that rather than hearing it all in his head and then writing it all down, Mozart made plenty of changes, additions and subtractions to his work. Just like anyone else.

Still, his work endures. If it wasn’t raw talent then what was it? That’s the central question the book seeks to answer.

The short answer is an incredible level of focus on their chosen field at an early age. World-class performers practice in a way that wouldn’t be considered fun. Generally, they work on one aspect of what they’re doing, over and over to a mind-numbing level, until they get it right. Then they work on the next thing. Compare that to the way most of us pursue things.

Golf presents a great example. The author points out how he will go to the practice range and hit a bucket of balls, working through various clubs one at a time. A Tiger Woods, however, will select one club and hit many buckets of balls, trying to learn how to make just one particular shot. If he is practicing and hits a sand trap, he’ll step on the ball to bury it deeper if he feels he needs to work on that shot.

So that’s the good news – with a sufficiently high work ethic it appears anyone can be a high-performer. Now for the bad news: most of that work needs to happen at a young age. According to Colvin, once people start hitting their adult years there are too many responsibilities and distractions to afford the kind of intensely focused time required to become a world-class performer.

Whether you agree with his premise or not, the book is a great read. It cites many examples of world class performers and what the did (as well as do) to be there. If you’re interested in what makes people tick, you’ll enjoy it.

May 24, 2010

Monk (Seasons 1 and 2)

Filed under: Philip Anast,Reviews — techimage @ 10:12 am

MonkAlthough we didn’t watch “Monk” during its eight-year run on USA Network, my wife and I were recently turned on to the program and love it!  Tony Shalhoub plays Adrian Monk, an obsessive, compulsive detective from San Francisco.  While one of the best law enforcement officers in the Bay Area, he is compelled to leave the force following the murder of his wife, at which point his phobias and obsessive behaviors border on the pathological (e.g. he needs a hand wipe every time he shakes someone’s hand).

The show begins a couple of years following the tragedy.  He is a private consultant to the department and is accompanied whenever he is outside by his private nurse, Sharona Fleming, played by Bitty Schram.  Also in the Series are Captain Stottlemeyer, played by Ted Levine, and Lieutenant Disher, played by Jason Gray-Stanford.

While the show follows a formula for detective series (the murder occurring in most cases before the show’s theme song/montage), writer Andy Breckman and his team are very creative in their story lines.  They make you really think and draw you in to the plot lines, much like the Poirot Series on A&E built upon the mystery novels of Agathie Christie.

Monk has an uncanny ability to see and perceive what others don’t on a murder scene.  One of my favorite episodes in the Series is “Mr. Monk and the Airplane.”  While having an extreme fear of flying, Monk is forced to fly to accompany Sharona during a visit to New Jersey to see her aunt.  Monk sees a woman tip-toeing to kiss her husband in the terminal, but on the plane, she stands eye-to-eye with him.  Even when others don’t believe Monk, his ability to remember facts and cull an encyclopedic brain serves him well and is the difference between foiling a murder plot and the murderers going free.  I won’t spill the beans on the episode, but the sequence is quite plausible – as are most of the shows.

If you need a good murder mystery, “Monk” serves up hours of entertainment and cerebral exercise.

Reviewed by Philip Anast

May 3, 2010

Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!

Filed under: Donna Gaidamak,Reviews — techimage @ 8:46 am

Listening to this NPR radio show on Saturday mornings is a hilarious, wit-filled way to wake up. But if you can’t make it out of bed before 10 a.m. to listen in, don’t worry – you can replay the show at anytime off the NPR website.

Wait Wait is an oddly-informative news quiz show that takes a fast-paced, irreverent look at global events, including the very whacky and very weird. It’s co-produced by NPR and Chicago Public Radio. In the Chicago area, you can hear it on WBEZ, 91.5 FM. Hosted by Peter Sagal and produced by Carl Kasell, the show’s typical panelists include Paula Poundstone, Mo Rocca, Tom Bodett and P.J. O’Rourke.

Panelists are put through the paces in a series of quizzes and games that test how well they paid attention to the week’s news. Lucky listeners who are selected play a game called “Bluff the Listener.” Each of the three panelists shares a news story and contestants have to identify the real one from the fakes.  Winners receive a suitable prize: Carl Kasell records a greeting on their home answering machines.

It’s a fun way to test your knowledge against some of the best and brightest in the news and entertainment world while figuring out what’s real and what’s not

The show is recorded before a live studio audience on Thursdays in Chicago. Tickets go on sale six weeks before each show and routinely sell out. I just got tickets for a show in June and can’t wait to see this up close and personal!

These folks are well-read, quick-thinking, and extremely funny. Most everything is fair game for their jokes, including themselves. Though it’s hard to believe, once in a while a caller manages to outwit the on-air talent, generating great awe and admiration from the audience.

Pay attention to this week’s news and get ready to laugh.

— Reviewed by Donna Gaidamak

April 30, 2010

Duck Soup

Filed under: Ken Krause,Reviews — techimage @ 4:27 pm

Most of the time on this blog, we tend to write about new movies that just came to theaters, or else were recently released on DVD. Recently, though, I had the chance to watch an old favorite and see that it still holds up pretty well.

The movie is Duck Soup, and it stars the Marx Brothers – Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo. I watched it numerous times on TV and in the theater in my younger days, but hadn’t seen it in many years. Groucho’s wisecracking in particular had a huge influence on me so I thought it would be fun to watch. When I had the chance to introduce the Marx Brothers to Mike Nikolich on top of it, the perfect storm hit.

The plot, like most of those Depression-era comedies is pretty simple. Rufus T. Firefly, a general ne’er do well and huckster (Groucho) is named the President of a fictional country called Freedonia by the fabulously wealthy Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont, the Marx Brothers’ favorite straight man). The reason she gets to decide who will run the country is Freedonia needs money, and she will only provide it if Firefly becomes President. Hey, people have been elected here for worse reasons.

Firefly, accompanied by his secretary Bob Roland (an under-utilized Zeppo), proceeds to name walnut vendor Chicolini (Chico) his Secretary of Defense. Chicolini brings in his pal Pinky (Harpo) to help him and the stage is set.

In the meantime, Ambassador Trentino of Sylvania (Louis Calhern), plots to get his country to go to war with Freedonia in order to seize its assets and Mrs. Teasdale’s money. As part of his plot he hires Chicolini and Pinky to spy on Firefly for him.

All of this, though, is primarily an excuse to run through the standard Marx Brothers antics: Groucho’s insincere wooing of Margaret Dumont and insulting of every stuff-shirt authority figure he comes across, Harpo’s manic running around causing mischief (such as cutting off the tie of every man he meets) and Chico’s general scheming and wordplay. There are even a couple of musical numbers thrown in which show the Brothers’ background from the Broadway days.

Some of the references are certainly dated, and the entire movie reflects a Hays Code (read: censorship) sensibility. Still, they get away with as much as they can. Many of Groucho’s wisecracks are just as biting today.

For those with a passing familiarity of the Marx Brothers, this is the one that includes the Vaudeville favorite mirror routine. A mirror is broken accidentally by Harpo, who is disguised as Groucho. When Groucho goes to discover the source of the noise, he sees the mirror is missing, but Harpo pretends to be his reflection. No matter what Groucho does, Harpo imitates it. Today’s audiences might ask why Groucho doesn’t just reach across and see if the glass is there, or punch him? But that’s not the way it works here. In fact, at one point Harpo drops his cap and Groucho hands it to him before continuing. Presumably, in Groucho’s mind, if he didn’t initiate the mistake then it doesn’t count.

The movie will take you back to a gentler, more polite time. But honestly, one big thing still holds true today. When Firefly and Ambassador Trentino have a personal disagreement, they don’t duke it out. They settle it like politicians by going to war.  Some things never change.

— Reviewed by Ken Krause

April 16, 2010

Emily Giffin’s Love the One You’re With

Filed under: Christine Rojewski,Reviews — techimage @ 10:36 am

While it might not be a book for the masses (or men), Emily Giffin’s novel “Love the One You’re With” is a terrific read. If you keep up with this blog, chances are you’ve seen my admiration for author Alice Sebold, though I was bummed that I finished the final three of her four novels this past summer. My search for a new author took place at Chicago’s Midway Airport as I was hopping a flight to Seattle back in November. Without much time or selection, I picked up this novel from Giffin and am happy I did.

This book is the fourth in a mini series that deals with the relationship and life dilemmas many women find during the ages of 22-40 years-old. In this particular novel, the main character, Ellen, is learning how to cope with the life she has and thought she loved in Georgia, versus her younger, active life in New York City that she misses.

The book begins when Ellen runs into an old flame not long after marrying her husband, Andy, leading her to have unsettling thoughts about her marriage. Not long after the run-in, Ellen moves with Andy to Georgia so he can pursue a career with his father. This, along with the thoughts of her desire to see her old boyfriend again, leaves Ellen wondering if her perfect life is what she wants, what she was expected to want or if in New York with her old flame is where she should be.

Not only is Ellen rethinking her marriage but her friendships, career and the overall path her life has taken over the years.

As Ellen’s feelings of confusion and resentment toward the move and her husband grow, her marriage begins to crumble. The book takes suspenseful twist and turns as Ellen tries to figure out what it is that she wants in life without trying to totally demolish her marriage and her relationship with her best friend (who so happens to be Andy’s sister).

While the book is geared toward a female audience it does truly touch on many life experiences which were borrowed from Giffin’s life and her friends, making some aspects of the book easily relatable for many readers.

–Reviewed by Christine Rojewski

March 31, 2010

Gorillaz in the Midst of a Comeback?

Filed under: Dan McDonnell,Reviews — techimage @ 3:00 pm
Plastic Beach by Gorillaz

Plastic Beach

Nobody wants to hear that their favorite band is on hiatus.   Is  the bassist in rehab?  Lead singer forming a ‘side project?’ Does a drug-induced stupor make a tour in Southeast Asia seem like a stroke of genius?

The 5-year gap between the Gorillaz Demon Days(2005) and their latest release is due to  frontman Damon Albarn’s busy work schedule.   And by work schedule, I mean the man spent five years writing an opera.  In Mandarin.

Having met his quota for operas penned in a non-native language, Albarn and the Gorillaz returned to the studio,  and the result is Plastic Beach.   My first taste of the album came a few weeks before the album’s release, when I heard Stylo on one of my favorite music blog aggregators.  If I hadn’t been sold by the catchy beats or the soulful pipes of Bobby Womack accompanying Albarn and co., the music video’s cameo by Bruce Willis would’ve made it game, set and match:

There are a healthy amount of collaborators on the record, most notably Snoop Dogg, Mos Def and Lou Reed.  Unlike some of their earlier work, however,  the guest vocals don’t take center stage nearly as much, and Albarn is really able to shine, particularly on Empire Ants, one of the strongest tracks.

As the title may suggest, Plastic Beach, has environmentalist overtones, most notably in the super-catchy, samply-friendly Superfast Jellyfish .  Nothing that ever takes you out of the listening experience, however.

All said and done, there is no one track that is quite as radio-friendly as Feel Good, Inc.(2005’s Demon Days) or Clint Eastwood(2001’s self-titled debut).  And yet, Plastic Beach is a very strong record throughout, even more so than both its predecessors.    It strays a bit from the cartoon avatars that defined most of their early work, yet remains a deep, fun and diverse album.   The Gorillaz may have just produced their best album yet, and they are high on my list of ‘must-see bands’ at Coachella 2010, in Indio, California next month.  Fingers crossed that Albarn sticks to studio albums, and doesn’t have another opera, or a musical in Farsii up his sleeve.

–by Dan McDonnell

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