The adored virtual band, the Gorillaz, are back with their fifth studio album, Humanz, their first album in five years. The band first gave a glimpse of this back in January, with the release of “Hallelujah Money” featuring Benjamin Clementine, on the eve of President Trump’s inauguration. The song was considered a sign of the awaited “apocalypse” due to Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election. The main concept of the record is the aftermath of a world-changing event – much like their 2005 album, Demon Days. Both albums are based off the fear some people have been facing in the post-9/11 modern world, and the Gorillaz have incorporated that fear with danceable and funky music.
It is clear Humanz is based off the emotional reaction from the world’s present-day political climate. While the President might’ve influenced Humanz, his name wasn’t mentioned on it at all. In an interview with Billboard, Albarn stated “There’s no references to [Trump] on the record, in fact, anytime when anyone made any reference, I edited it out.” He also went on to say “I don’t want to give the most famous man on earth any more fame, particularly. He doesn’t need it!” Despite mentioning Trump, there are references to political and social issues, primarily made by the featured guests. Some have described the album to be the “party record for the apocalypse”.
On Humanz, Albarn instructed his guest artists to envision a future in which Donald Trump had won the 2016 presidential election. To many unexpectedly, this came true. The new album features a variety of popular artists including: Vince Staples, De La Soul, Danny Brown, Grace Jones, Jehnny Beth, and even a cameo appearance from longtime 90’s Britpop rival, Noel Gallagher (unlisted). It’s ironic that Gallagher and Albarn sing together “We’ve got the power to be loving each other, no matter what happens”. In 1995, Gallagher wished Albarn would “Catch AIDS and die”. The dust has settled in 2017, but of course Noel’s grumpy brother, Liam, wasn’t too happy about the collaboration.
Right from the get-go, you know the album is dystopian. Vince Staples’ vocal approach on the track, “Ascension” crashes with lyrics like “Heard the world is ending soon I assumed that they told ya, they tryna dinosaur us” and the most memorable verse, “the sky is falling baby, drop that ass ‘fore it crash”. Here, it really shows the album’s theme and what you will encounter throughout the rest of the songs. The track mainly revolves around Staples’ vocals and lyrics, with slight part from 2-D (aka Albarn). On “Submission”, there are some lovely vocals from Kelela and later, some out of place erratic vocals from Danny Brown. His rap is good and all, but he could’ve been better placed on the album. The high point of the album, comes in with this hitting guitar riff of the most epic track on the album, “Charger”. It features Grace Jones, who does this Murdoch-like laugh at the beginning of song, which immediately draws you in. It’s the catchiest track off the album, so catchy you wake up singing “A cha-charger” and it’s the only original sounding Gorillaz track, coming from the virtual band themselves. After that, the “Interlude: “Elevator Going Up” features the actor, Ben Mendelsohn, who starred as Orson Krennic from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, transitions the songs, in again, a Murdoch-like voice, to one of the other catchier tracks off the album, “Andromeda” (feat. D.R.A.M.). “Busted and Blue” is the most distinct and only track without a featured guest, which was excellent because Albarn’s vocals are sincere and genuine alone. On “Sex Murder Party,” some David Bowie in Jamie Principle’s vocals and also the famous Kazoo Kid (not literal) are noticed in the background at some parts. These aspects overall make the song sound improvised and incomplete. The most disappointing track off the album is the De La Soul collaboration, “Momentz”. This is the same group the Gorillaz collaborated with on “Feel Good Inc.,” the Gorillaz’s most successful and well-known track worldwide. “Momentz” is repetitive and all over the place, making it annoying and the most skippable track. “Hallelujah Money” has the form of the Demon Days title/closing track, but is completely ravaged by the unfitting ending – Clementine’s scream would’ve been more appropriate on the kooky “Saturnz Barz” than the serious “Hallelujah Money”. Also, the song mostly only features Clementine, while Albarn’s vocals sound sluggish and downplayed, like many of his parts on the album. Thankfully, the album closes with the released single, “We Got The Power”. Albarn’s collaboration with Noel Gallagher in the chorus overshadows Jenny Beth’s vocals part as a french Noodle, whose alluring voice makes the song. It’s the perfect closing to an apocalyptic-party album with the lyrics “We got the power to be loving each other, no matter what happens,” being an inspiring chant towards reality.
Throughout the album, you can speculate that it was rushed. Let’s face it, two of the music videos for two of the most significant singles, are dull and boring. They both only show one scene stuck in motion, while others are artistically exaggerated. The album has a concept, but there is no structure or balance meaning it’s all over the place. The group tried forming and arranging the album with the interludes – transitioning into certain songs, but it only worked with “The Non-conformist Oath” changing to “Submission”. The worst transition of all, is the introduction “Intro: I Switched My Robot Off” shifting to “Ascension’. It ends quickly, with Vince Staples’ vocals coming out of nowhere remotely, with his introduction having a slight pause instead of the actual introduction having one. The album sounds unfinished, which is disappointing for a studio album that was much anticipated. It sounds like a compilation of random singles, much like a playlist. Of course, there is no consistency with the Gorillaz -they’re an always changing group, however, their style is hardly incorporated into Humanz. Listening to most of the songs, it is hard to realize you are listening to the Gorillaz because there is such an emphasis on the featured guests. Of course, that might’ve been the point, since the album is entitled Humanz. The album is filled with an abundance of diversity and emphasis on the real humans featured in the songs, rather than the virtual band. The album only highlighted the virtual band through its promotion, but denied a sense of them throughout the album. Musically, it’s no longer about 2-D and the gang; it is only a Gorillaz album in name. There were a handful of moderate tracks, like “Saturn Barz,” but it sounded more like a Popcaan solo track featuring the Gorillaz instead of the other way around. Considering the lack of structure and balance, the album is primarily saved by a handful of great songs.
Unfortunately, you get to the end of the album and realize it never even felt like it started. This album held great potential to have been the best Gorillaz album especially given the large gap along with the anticipation, but sadly, it’s their worst.
Classic Tracks – “Charger,” “Busted and Blue,” “Sex Murder Party,” “She’s My Collar” and “Strobelite”
Ehh – “Momentz,” “Carnival,” “Let Me Out” and “Hallelujah Money”
Listen to the Gorillaz’s Humanz here.