After what is nearly a 7 year wait, Gorillaz, the biggest virtual band in the world and to have ever existed, are officially back with their brand-new studio album, Humanz. The fifth since 2001, the process to Humanz has been a slow-burner to say the least. Gorillaz are a band with more scope and availability to change than most other musicians on the planet. Every album starts as a blank canvas, so what kind of muse will we be left with this time? A moodier, dark sounding vibe like their first album, and Demon Days to a lesser extent? Or a more experimental vibe, not unlike that toyed with on later albums Plastic Beach and The Fall?
Early single releases were a confusing mixed bag. Following a social media rollout that seemed to take an eternity, a grand total of seven singles were officially released prior to the LPs release. All of which seemed to share in one theme only; a distinct lack of main singer 2D, voiced by project leader Damon Albarn.
I hate to do this quite in this manner, but I feel if you haven’t listened to the album just yet, and you are a Gorillaz fan in any way, you need to know what you are being let in for. Below is a list I have compiled of just how much 2D/Albarn appears across the entirety of Humanz, bonus tracks and all:
1 verse on Ascension
No vocals on Strobelite
2x chorus and break shared with Popcaan on Saturnz Barz
2x chorus on Momentz
Harmonises with Kelela on Submission
Most of the song on Charger
Most of the song on Andromeda
Most of the song on Busted and Blue
No vocals on Carnival
2x chorus, 1x refrain on Let Me Out
2x chorus, 1x hook on Sex Murder Party
Most of the song on She’s My Collar
2x bridges on Hallelujah Money
Most of the song on We Got The Power
Supplementary vocals on The Apprentice
Nothing on Halfway to the Halfway House
1 shared verse on Out of Body
Most of the song on Ticker Tape
Shared vocals on Circle of Friendz
That is, quite frankly, an embarrassing body of work. What is essentially a glorified compilation has released itself as something that has dressed like a Gorillaz album, walked like a Gorillaz album, spoken like a Gorillaz album, but is more disassociated than anything the band have ever released in their history.
To do this is not due to a change of musical direction, not due to an identity revamp from the band or Albarn. To do this, massive number of features of not, is at least I think due to a lack of ideas from the Blur frontman. The album has a very loose theme on our world and its dangers at large as it is, to not have the actual band stringing it together gives the entire thing a risk of falling apart.
But yes, the music. Fortunately, whether it be a Gorillaz song or not, the songs are on a whole pretty good. Sure, there are dull moments, particularly towards the end (only The Apprentice and Ticker Tape stand out from the bonus tracks). Sex Murder Party and She’s My Collar rank in fact as the albums worst, being so frustratingly dull more than terrible.
Positivity wise, I have only good things to say about Momentz, Submission and Let Me Out. Submission is a jovial yet somewhat gospel track that gives us Danny Brown in a slightly fresher light than usual. When presented with the list of features, his and Pusha T’s on Let Me Out were the two I was most puzzled at given Gorillaz previous with production for artists such as these, but the work done here is sublime and everything is knitted together very well.
Momentz sees the return of long time collaborators De La Soul to a Gorillaz record, and while this is certainly no Feel Good Inc, either in terms of its quality or broad appeal, it’s a sturdy and bustly enough track, with more firepower than a lot of the songs on Humanz combined.
Ascension is one of those songs with notable lack of fire in its belly. Everything feels tight and secure enough, but Vince Staples doesn’t own his section that famous features have in previous Gorillaz songs, and altogether feels more of a missed opportunity. The same could be said of Charger, a real ill-fitting record, wasted mostly due to the off-sounding vocals from Albarn.
However, nobody is more wasted than Noel Gallagher on We Got The Power. The collaboration between two of the biggest UK musicians since the 90s, who produced perhaps the best musical rivalry of modern times within Britpop, are thrown together in a mess of a chorus in which you can’t even tell where Gorillaz starts and ends. It makes moments like D.R.A.M. and his minimal presence on an admittedly good song (one of the more hard hitting songs on the record in terms of its beat) in Andromeda sound a few times more fleshed out than they actually are in isolation.
Both Strobelite and Carnival feature (from what I can tell) no actual vocals from Gorillaz, so as hard as it is to ignore that fact and judge them on their own merits, I cannot see many of those merits shining through from Messrs Peven Everett and Anthony Hamilton respectively on these tracks.
Busted and Blue is a rare shining light into a moment of pure Gorillaz. It is not the best song on this album by any means, but the longest song on the album is a consistent and strained effort from 2D, with his slightly tortured vocal performance making the song more than anything else.
The massive problem seems to be to be that no song on Humanz appears to be a classic for the band. I cannot see any song here achieving the same kind of longevity that Clint Eastwood, DARE or On Melancholy Hill have had since their respective releases. These songs may be classics, but this is the competition Gorillaz have set for themselves, and to not even get close to matching that kind of level, having been away for as long as they have is massively unfortunate. That Saturnz Barz, a decent song but no more, currently looks to be the biggest commercial hit for the band from Humanz is indicative of an overall lack of quality.
If this had been marketed as a compilation, playlist or even a mixtape, all the major sins of Humanz may well have been possible to forgive and forget. However, this is a fully-fledged studio album and has been released as such, so for it to arrive in the shape in which it has is a disappointment that overpowers any other feeling about the record. I may enjoy more songs on this album than I don’t, I may know that as standalone singles, released by the primary featured artist, this would be a decent list of tracks to shuffle across on my phone. But for what Humanz is, and more importantly what it isn’t, I can only enjoy it to a very low boiling point.