Album Review: Gorillaz, ‘Humanz’
Alternative virtual band Gorillaz returns with an ambitious and quirky, yet enjoyable fifth studio album, ‘Humanz.’ ‘Humanz’ is star-studded.
Gorillaz returns with its first new album in nearly seven years, Humanz. That’s definitely a big deal. The alternative brainchild of Damon Albarn and illustrator Jamie Hewlett, Gorillaz has always delivered an interesting musical experience. Humanz doesn’t alter that perception in the least, maintaining the quirkiness that makes the band special. The high watermark for the collective came with 2005 album, Demon Days, which was a huge commercial success. Does Humanz have what it takes to match those lofty heights? Meh, but there’s plenty to like about their fifth studio album.
Following “Intro: I Switched My Robot Off,” Vince Staples kicks off the album right with the high-flying “Ascension.” Essentially, Staples and Albarn tackle heavy topics including racism, equality, and the current state of the world. “Ascension,” hence, is a song for turbulent times such as these.
“Are we obsidian?” That’s the question asked on the groovy gem “Strobelite”, featuring Peven Everett on lead vocals. Although “Strobelite” benefits from is danceable, electronic production, it’s not particularly easygoing. The record seems to question if unity is indeed possible again, referencing the obsidian lyric once more.
“Saturnz Barz,” featuring Jamaican artist Popcaan, served as a promo single from Humanz. Popcaan nails the signature reggae sound, expectedly. Furthermore, he delivers a personal verse, even if it’s difficult to decipher. Still, “Saturn Barz” doesn’t stand out as a hit necessarily, despite its attributes.
Gorillaz pair with old friends De La Soul on “Momentz.” First and foremost, “Momentz” doesn’t supplant “Feel Good, Inc.,” the definitive collaboration between both collectives. The energy is appreciated, particularly the continual iteration of the titular lyric. The production is interesting, yet there is a lack of finesse. “Momentz” is among the most polarizing songs.
Following “Interlude: The Non-Conformist Oath,” “Submission” arrives, featuring Kelela and Danny Brown. Vocally, Kelela is the crème de la crème of the record – she sounds true to herself. As for Brown, he’s as rough around the edges as ever, though the lyrics sound as if they should be performed in a more reflective, introspective manner. The other rub with “Submission” is the production. Perhaps the groove and key components of the production loop one time too many.
On “Charger,” Gorillaz gets an assist from dance veteran Grace Jones. Messy, yet hard-hitting, “Charger” has a sexy vibe without being overtly sexual. Interestingly, there’s never clarification by the definitive meaning of charger, as the word seems to take on multiple meanings.
“Andromeda” follows, featuring D.R.A.M. The problem is, D.R.A.M.’s appearance seems like a total missed opportunity. Sure, he’s a guest as opposed to the lead, but considering the amount of personality he possesses, “Andromeda” sells it short. Still, this is another groovy, worth spinning more than once.
Ballad “Busted and Blue” is one of the more beautiful moments from Humanz. Eschewing any guest features, it’s all Damon Albarn (2D). Heavy, “Busted and Blue” questions existence and the power of computers.
“Where does it come from? / When everything was outside / Busted and blue / How in the universe / Through the lithium / Busted and blue.”
Following another interlude (“Interlude: Talk Radio”), “Carnival” arrives, featuring Anthony Hamilton. The biggest bummer about the record is listeners only get a limited amount of the soulfulness that characterizes Hamilton.
Follow-up “Let Me Out,” featuring Mavis Staples and Pusha T is the better record. Both musicians shine in their roles. Pusha T remains tough as nails, while Mavis Staples flaunts her signature, soulful grit. Pusha T mourns the end of the Obama, as well as his safety and a fair chance at life. Staples, references the end of the world:
“Am I passin’ into the light? / (Am I looking into mercy’s eyes?) / All the world is out of your hands / (Then ascending into the dark) Another night / You got to die if you wanna live / Change coming / You’d best be ready for it.”
Albarn fits into the picture soundly as well. He expresses his views of a flawed society:
“Something I’ve begun to fear is about to change its form / Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s a shift in times / But I won’t get tired at all.”
After “Interlude: Penthouse,” “Sex Murder Party” arrives, featuring Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz. A groovy, yet dark number, “Sex Murder Party” seems to warn of the dangers of sex and partying. Depending upon interpretation, the murder component seems metaphorical as opposed to literal. Still, there is a clear point being made by Albarn and his guests.
Follow up “She’s My Collar” is captivating, featuring Kali Uchis. The M.O.? A secret lover. This feels like a fitting follow-up as the subject matter relates to an extent. Collar seems to be open to multiple interpretations, all of which seem to find Albarn reliant upon his secret lover. After all, “She’s the one I’m running with / She’s my collar.”
“Interlude: The Elephant” arrives ahead of two politically-charged songs. “Hallelujah Money” features Benjamin Clementine, speaking on the power of money. Like the album as a whole, President Donald Trump isn’t explicitly mentioned, but anti-Trump is easily perceptible. This is a very unique song, thanks to Clementine’s distinct vocals, the production, and the choral vocals. While this isn’t perfectly put together, “Hallelujah Money” conceptually is perfect.
“We Got the Power” fittingly concludes, featuring Noel Gallagher (!) and Jehnny Beth. The song title gives away the script, one that definitely supports the RESIST movement. Again, a certain president isn’t mentioned, but it’s clear this is an anthem of love trumps hate.
All said and done, there’s more to like about Humanz than to criticize or hate about it. Not every guest appearance works, and at times, the production and songs themselves are ever too quirky. Nonetheless, given the age for the big pop album filled with multiple styles, Humanz fits the mold. Characterizing this effort as classic would be an overstatement, but there are ample experiences to make this project a pleasing listen overall.
Gems: “Ascension,” “Strobelite,” “Busted and Blue,” “Let Me Out” & “Hallelujah Money”