Humanz sees Damon Albarn lead Gorillaz through an extended tour of contemporary musical genres
Humanz is (ironically) the album name given to a band which is represented by 4 animated characters (or should I say ‘characterz’?): 2-D. A lanky, shy, hollowed eyed singer; Murdoc Niccals – the big mouth in the group, and has also been to jail; Noodle – the mysterious female member of the band; and Russel Hobbs – contender for the coolest drummer on the planet.
Designed by comic artist Jamie Hewlett, the 4 Gorillaz characters came to life back in 2001, and to date continue to seaminglessly represents the most relevant music in the industry. While the characters don’t seem to have aged a day, less could be said of Damon Albarn – Hewlett’s co-creator and the brains behind the music. Verging on 50, Damon is now one of the world’s most respected and admired artists. He boomed his career with Blur 10 years before back in 1991 – the only band who truly matched the grandiose of Oasis at the time (without being dicks as well). He later moved on to Gorillaz, a group which has since been nominated for 9 Grammy’s and Brit’s, bagged 1 Grammy, among other NME and Q Awards. The last Gorillaz album Plastic Beach came out in 2010 and within the space of 7 years he has since completed another Blur album, multiple projects with Malian artists, and a solo album called Everyday Robots where we hear him reflect upon topics like robots and technology taking over the world. Then comes Humanz, an album which originated from GarageBand on an iPad, and who’s animated member’s existence is dependent on technology.
When Humanz was first thought out in 2015, the vibe of the album was founded on the idea that one day Donald Trump could win the US election. Not surprisingly then, it came to be quite a dark and heavy album. As always, Gorillaz’ albums are full of collaborations and this one definitely doesn’t come shy. Vince Staples, De La Soul (obviously), Pusha T, Rag’n’Bone Man, Popcaan and among many others feature. Albarn admitted that a lot of the artists he chose to collaborate with was influenced by what his 17-year-old daughters was listening to at the time, and his desire to impress her by working with them. How sweet. The success of the hugely anticipated 5th Gorillaz album now relies on a teenager’s taste in music.
The album starts strong with its first 4 songs. ‘Ascension’ was released as a single and brought huge attention to the album. It’s fast-paced and exciting. Vince Staples provides some insane bars and it’s the first time we get to hear that unmistakable sound of Damon’s filtered voice. ‘Strobelite’ is probably the danciest and popiest song on the record. The bass line is extremely groovy and is a definite highlight of the album.
‘Saturnz Barz’ (the domination of z’s continues) was the album’s first single and gave us a glimpse into the darkness of the album. It’s probably not the most accessible song for someone who’s not into dancehall reggae, but Popcaan gives the track a completely new sound unlike anything we’ve heard from Gorillaz before. ‘Momentz’ (still more z’s) ft. De La Soul was always going to be good. De La Soul have already collaborated with Gorillaz on various tracks such as the iconic ‘Feel Good Inc.’ and ‘Superfast Jellyfish’ on the last album. ‘Momentz’ is a super intense song and the beat will make you feel like there’s a whole marching band besides you. There is undoubtedly some great chemistry between both groups.
Quite alike all other Gorillaz albums, their music is not always the most accessible, and you definitely need to give this album a listen a few times… if you have time that is. With 26 songs, that sort of album length now days is uncommon, brave, but realistically just too long. Damon even went as far as calling it a “playlist”. After half a dozen songs, you start losing the concept of the album and it becomes hard to appreciate all of it. The first 10 songs, coupled with about another 3 from the next 16 could have sufficed (also taking away the frankly pointless interludes which make up 7 out of the 26 songs).
However, skip to track 10 and you’ll reach ‘Andromeda’ – contender for best song on the album. The song is based on a nightclub in Colchester that played soul music. While D.R.A.M does collaborate for a very small part of the song, ‘Andromeda’ stands out from all the other songs on the album because it is solely sung by Damon. It brings back a similar sentiment to the first 2 Gorillaz albums or ‘On Melancholy Hill’ on the last album. While collaborations are almost intrinsic of Gorillaz, it just goes to show that there is still nothing better than a Gorillaz track which takes it back to the roots. The chorus is incredibly like ‘feel good (inc.)’ as Damon’s voice echoes “take it in your heart now lover”.
If you then dig as deep as the tracks in the 20’s, ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘Out of Body’ are also extremely worthwhile songs. “Out of Body” has a sort of Shamir or Nicki Minaj vibe to it, which makes it very strangely likeable.
Humanz is a strange mix between house music, soul and hip hop; and like all their albums – they’re completely different from one another. It’s impossible to say that the album isn’t very “Gorillaz” because they can be anything. From stripped back acoustic guitar songs, to gospel songs, to songs with the Arabic National Orchestras, they can do it all. Humanz could be simply seen as an exploration into the darker side of their infinite sound. The length of the album definitely makes it harder to grasp and appreciate. On the other hand, Damon just handed us 19 full length songs to listen to… and we can’t really complain about that.