Album review: Humanz by Gorillaz
One of 2017’s most eagerly anticipated albums, Humanz heralds the bold return of the world’s leading virtual band, Gorillaz. The band (whose members are animated characters) is the brainchild of Blur frontman Damon Albarn and comic book artist Jamie Hewlett, who began the project in the late 90s as a tongue-in-cheek caricature of pop music’s falseness. Since then, however, Gorillaz have matured into something altogether more authentic.
Humanz, their fifth studio album (and the first one since 2011’s The Fall), is a departure from the band’s trademark trip-hop style in favour of a darker electronic sound. Whilst this radical shift in tone does take some time getting used to, it is more than appropriate for the socially significant subjects the album confronts: our dependence on technology, widening inequality, racial tension, and, of course, Donald Trump.
Albarn’s concept for the album was to imagine people’s emotional responses to a world-changing event, and in doing so, Humanz feels like the playlist for an end of the world house party. Although successful in conjuring up this compelling scene, its focus on individual tracks (rather than the record as a whole) might be its greatest weakness, as it really does feel like more of a mixtape than a studio album six years in the making.
This focus on individual songs above the overall album also makes Humanz very hit-or-miss. While its hits do outnumber its misses, it means that some of the particularly strong tracks (such as hair-raising Let Me Out) are dragged down by the weaker ones (like needlessly chaotic Momentz). This is amplified by the placement of the tracks on the album, which don’t flow as naturally into one another as on previous albums Demon Days or Plastic Beach.
That having been said, the musical diversity Humanz promises on its track list does mean that almost anybody could find at least a couple of songs they really enjoy. But its greatest strength is Albarn’s exceptional taste in collaborators, something he has put to good use on all of Gorillaz’s past albums. Humanz features guest appearances from the likes of Grace Jones, Mavis Staples, Popcaan, De La Soul, Pusha T, Benjamin Clementine, and even – wait for it – Noel Gallagher, who provides backing vocals for his once-archenemy Albarn on the unusually upbeat closing track We Got the Power.
Despite its flaws, Humanz is a strong return for Gorillaz and only when compared with their past work does it slightly disappoint. It does stretch itself thin in places, wanting all at once to be a lively party record and a profound political commentary, but this clumsy fusion is executed impressively well.
By Ryan Jones Matthews