Humanz- A Hyberbolic Review
There’s a ton of fanfare going across the land as animated champions Gorillaz return to claim their throne in after a long hiatus. With a large promotions campaign creating hype across the world with 500 listening parties throughout the world, a ten episode animated series in the works, and one of my personal favorite things they ever had done, creating a music festival in their honor, which they deserve in my humble opinion.
2017 has been an interesting year so far, so many things that have been gone for a while are coming back, Samurai Jack, Lorde, Nazism, the list goes on and on, but the interesting point I’m supposed to be making right now is that Gorillaz delayed this album from 2016 for my polish. Thus making it part of our extensive list of come backs along with Jumanji, Spider-Man, and a white president.
So the real question is, besides why the constant listing in this review, was the wait worth it. Well, the question comes down to how you feel about eclectic music albums. Personally, I love this constant shifting track shifting style of albums, it’s why I like split albums like Cell No. 9 by Tropical Gorilla and Beat Crusaders, which is worth it just for the collaborative track “Droog in the Slum.” Besides that some of my first albums were collaborative eclectic pieces such as Slash’s first solo album, Carlos Santana’s Supernatural, and even soundtrack to Sound City with Dave Grohl and multitude of guest.
Gorillaz has filled this album with enough collaborators to warrant their own record label and this calls for a collection and mixture of all these different styles under a club music to give us Humanz. Gorillaz fans have noted this number of collaborators and have belly moaned over the idea that they can’t have the luscious and ever fabulous voice of Damon Albarn on deck for each track, but let’s leave this comment and put it in the trash, right where it belongs and take a look at these tracks.
The album is peppered with interludes and an intro with the voice stylings of Ben Mendelsohn, the man who played the lover in the “Lover to Lover” music video by Florence and the Machine. The album starts with Mendelsohn proclaiming he had “Shut his robot off,” leading into a blast of vocals from Vince Staples in the first track “Ascension.” I’ve covered this track before and it’s grown on me since my initial “meh” feeling to it. Most people I know seem to like this track, I think it works well as album opener and I really wouldn’t want to chant it’s chorus if it came on at a party. Most people I know would also go out of their way to praise the Grammys as a celebration of music this year, but I was only in it for the Gary Clark Jr. performance, so I think we know where I stand at the party, in the corner away from everyone else as this song goes bananas repeating, “the sky’s falling baby drop that ass before it crash,” it’s not a bad experience, but it’s not for me.
Next is “Strobelite” featuring Peven Everett, a track that goes that sounds like it was composer by Masato Nakamura at first but goes off into a very slick dance number. Everett goes on to show some impressive vocal chops in this track and everything feels very cozy and warm with the sense of something in preparation beyond the horizon. This may halt it as an individual song but in context of the album it works really well. Then something dark comes across the horizon as anticipated in “Strobelite.” “Saturnz Barz” featuring Popcaan sneaks in and sets up the tone of this album. The setup of Popcaan as the main vocalist of this tune leading into an Albarn powered chorus and bridge that feels like an inverted version of “Feel Good Inc.” This has been the flagship single of the album and really gives everyone a chance to breath and realize “We’re already four tracks into this thing,” but as this 20 to 26 track album wants to remind us, the night is still young.
Returning for their third track veteran Gorillaz collaborators De La Soul come at us with “Momentz.” A very interesting track to say the least. The constant emphasis of the word momentz repeated over and over again unsettles the listener from easing to the groove, which is strange considering how groove heavy the previous De La Soul and Gorillaz previous tracks, “Superfast Jellyfish” and “Feel Good Inc,” are. This is a good shake up of the De La Soul collaboration expectations however I don’t feel it breaks that much new ground. Then after a brief interlude of the “Non-Conformist Oath” leads into the one of the most anticipated tracks “Submission” featuring Danny Brown and Keela. Keela kills this track, the tone of her magnificent voice follows the song home from work, watches them from a window waits for the night they are most vulnerable and goes in for the kill to the tune of Jaws. What was left of the song couldn’t be shown to the public, that’s how bad Keela killed it. While the lyrics themselves aren’t exactly the best of in the far off distance comes Danny Brown and he is out to make this seem like “Freddie vs Jason” with the murder attempts. This track works very well and just leaves the listener with a blank faced “Damn.”
Off in the distance comes the sound of a screeching guitar and the maniacal laughter of Grace Jones as “Charger” comes to take us for a ride. Damon Albarn works as this song’s man vocalist as Grace Jones ad libs over the track to very Disney villain levels of loveable sleaze. Jones comes off as some kind of evil super villain, which I know many have made that comparison to, so I’m not exactly original with these jokes, but who cares this song is the new age villainy song we have always wanted. Just you watch some WWE heel, supposed to be hated, wrestler will have a rip off of this song in a year or two. Followed with the “Elevator Going Up” interlude comes a personal favorite “Andromeda.” This song embodies everything I love in this album. Albarn takes center stage as D.R.A.M. comes in with a few lines every now and then, but the smooth groove hypnotic daze and dream like state fills me joy beyond comparison.
While I could go on and on about “Andromeda” it’s time to address the elephant in the room, not the interlude “The Elephant,” there’s one track on this album that swipes everything off the face of the Earth in a magnificent tidal wave of sonic supremacy that is “Busted in Blue.” This song made me cry it’s beautiful. Its minimalistic tone swells into a great track which alongside “Charger” will become all time Gorillaz classics. “Busted and Blue” reminds me well why that comment we threw into the trash at the beginning of the review about Albarn barely being in the album stay in the trash. When Albarn himself does a track this good by himself the collaborators need all the attention they can get. After such a force hits comes the interlude “Talk Radio” into “Carnival” featuring Anthony Hamilton. I’ll be honest, I can’t remember anything about this song. It leaves no impact as it stands between two of the albums best two songs so let’s just get to “Let Me Out.”
With a feature of Mavis Staples and Pusha T, “Let Me Out” is a track that combines the best of Gospel and Rap into a political song about police brutality and the uncertainty of a post 2016 election America. Mavis Staple complete rules this track, her voice is one of the highlights of this album and Pusha T doesn’t just sit down and take it as he delivers some of poetically dark lines I’ve ever heard. Lines like fearing the denial of his pastor expelling false hope, out living his nephew and niece, and holding a gun at all times without trusting anyone. “Let Me Out” is dark and rambunctious and won’t leave for the next four to eight years.
After the interlude “Penthouse” comes both “Sex Murder Party” and “She’s my Collar.” Another example of more Albarn heavy tracks. Personally, both are fine, but they aren’t really full of a lot of meat. Despite the titles, “She’s my Collar” feels the most interesting, and is more hummable compared to its counterpart. “The Elephant” interlude comes in with its not so subtle symbolism to the track that introduced us to Phase four of Gorillaz, “Hallelujah Money” featuring Benjamin Clementine, a song I had to personally defend to all my fellow Gorillaz fans like it was my own child. “Hallelujah Money” is an interesting track that works better in the album rather than a single and features some nice words hinting towards some interesting figure in America at the moment. “We Got the Power comes in to wrap up standard edition of the album. This song is really about protest and what we as a collective can hold together. It also severs as a burial of the old Blur vs Oasis rivalry as Noel Gallagher and Damon albarn work together with Jehnny Beth for what feels like a chaotic church sermon of a song.
Overall, I don't care what others say about this album, "Humanz" is a fun ride for those that want more from their music without straying from the world of popular music. The album does hold a theme of a party being held at a point of total madness, however I fear this theme when thinking of the album, because after notable events of 2016 there's a fear of it becoming dated, which I don't want this album to be seen as dated. There are some good songs in this album and while some songs serve to kill the pacing of the hits, the good of this album outweighs the bad. So taking the theme of this album with a grain of salt its safe to say, Gorillaz fans will find little to be disappointed in this album, however the true test of this album will come with the passage of time, if it survives the next four to eight years without feeling bloated and dated I can see this album being a worthwhile piece of the late 2010's discography.