Gorillaz’ first proper album in seven years, featuring a galaxy of guest stars, effectively re-boots their sound for 2017, though it’s not as distinctive as it once was.
It’s been seven years since the release of Gorillaz’ smash hit album Plastic Beach, and Jamie Hewlett’s colourful cartoon creations have all undergone transformations. This is reflected on the cover of Humanz; 2D, Murdoc, Russell and Noodle feature in the same iconic four-block design that was made famous by Gorillaz’ 2005 album Demon Days, but this time the band members look more like real people rather than cartoon characters. It’s an interesting choice; it’s evident that this is intended to show the ongoing maturity of the characters and Gorillaz’ constant change of style, but it almost feels cheap, and isn’t nearly as powerful as other Gorillaz art.
Sonically, Humanz is a great departure from Plastic Beach. This is Gorillaz’ punchiest record yet – it’s a musical journey through a party on the night before the world ends, before everything is turned upside down, the impossible becoming real. With the era that Humanz has been born into being so politically turbulent, it is easy to draw parallels between the themes on the album and certain recent elections and referendums, yet Damon Albarn has edited out all mentions of current political figures in an attempt to disassociate the album with only one period of time. It is clear Gorillaz want their work to be timeless.
Damon Albarn has an infamous knack for choosing collaborators, and with the release of Humanz, it has become clearer than ever what Gorillaz truly are. This concept band is a constantly evolving project, always looking to stride boldly into new sonic territory, cultivating the sounds of a featured artist while attempting to retain their own style. Just like Plastic Beach, the supporting cast list on Humanz is as impressive and diverse as one would expect: Danny Brown, Grace Jones, Mavis Staples, Benjamin Clementine and De La Soul, to name but a few. It’s very difficult to fault Albarn’s carefully curated list. But where Gorillaz have previously been successful in retaining their instantly recognisable sound while evolving at the same time, on Humanz, this sound is harder to spot. Many of the songs on the album make Gorillaz sound like the featured artist rather than the other way round. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t great songs, but it would have been nice to hear Albarn’s soft, muffled vocals that Gorillaz fans love so much a little more.
Humanz packs some excellent songs. Among the best is ‘Strobelite’, a beat-fuelled house track with an addictive bass riff. Peven Everett’s soulful vocals glide over the track, and make this an excellent example of a feature done superbly. ‘Ascension’, with Vince Staples, is another, with Staples’ aggressive style layered over a simple kick and spacey synths lends itself fantastically to the pace of the record, and sees him jeering at the United States of America: “I’m just kidding baby this the land of the free / where you can live your dreams long as you don’t look like me”. ‘Busted And Blue’, the one full song on Humanz with no featured guest artist, is a slow, gentle and beautifully crafted ballad that highlights Albarn’s ability to convey so much emotion using his voice.
The record takes the listener through the vast variety of songs with the help of a series of interludes, that are short, entertaining and have the rare effect of making them feel as if they are on the journey with the band. ‘Elevator Going Up’ is a four-second interlude that lies between ‘Charger’ and ‘Andromeda’ that creates the feeling of moving from one mood to another as the latter’s excellent disco beat ushers in the next stage of the fast-moving party that is Humanz.
There are weak cuts on this album too. ‘Momentz’, with De La Soul, is a noisy and incoherent mess with generic uninspired lyrics, which is a huge shame considering that De La Soul’s feature on ‘Feel Good Inc.’ in 2005 became an iconic song within hip-hop, propelling Gorillaz to global superstardom. ‘We Got The Power’ sees Albarn’s former Britpop nemesis, Noel Gallagher, collaborating with him, which would be exciting if the song wasn’t so poor. Once again the lyrics are simple and cheesy, and Jehnny Beth of Savages fame has a feature so basic she may as well not be on the song at all. These are examples of features done badly, and they diminish the fast-paced journey-like effect that makes the record so much fun to listen to.
Humanz is neither Demon Days nor Plastic Beach: fans expecting more of the same will be disappointed. But it is ambitious and mostly very good; while let down by some weak moments and some incoherency, Humanz is an fast-paced romp through a bizarre party that both established fans and newcomers are sure to thoroughly enjoy. (7/10) (Josh Kirby)
Listen to the deluxe edition of Humanz here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!
Tags: 2D, album, Damon Albarn, Gorillaz, Humanz, Jamie Hewlett, Josh Kirby, Murdoc, Noodle, Parlophone, review, Russell, Warner Bros
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