Album of the Week: Gorillaz, 'Humanz'


'Humanz' art
'Humanz' art (Parlophone Records Ltd / Warner Music Group)
Mark Wheat - Album of the Week: Gorillaz, 'Humanz'
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Going Top 10 across the globe and narrowly missing out on toppling Drake from the Billboard No.1 last week, the fifth Gorillaz album, Humanz, must already be rated a massive success, especially for a band that doesn't really exist outside of Jamie Hewlett's animated figures! In many favorable reviews, Humanz was compared to the Drake album More Life, which Drake himself has described as a playlist. Perhaps Humanz is better described as a mixtape; as Will Hermes points out in Rolling Stone: "If it's an uneven LP, it's fairly brilliant by mixtape standards, which may be the best way to measure it."

It is uneven and over long, especially when we're told that there are many, many more tracks still in the Humanz vault, some being released on vinyl editions of the album and various other digital packages. With so much to choose from and apparently a never-ending list of guests to use, Humanz could have easily boiled down to a solid 10-track album. With six short, mostly uninspired interludes, it runs to 20. Damon Albarn, Lead Human on the project, instructed collaborators to consider what they would sing or rap or say at the party at the end of the world. According to the NME, Albarn had had a hunch that Donald Trump would win the U.S. election, but carefully edited out any direct reference to him. Considering that, Danny Brown, Kelela, Benjamin Clementine and Jamie Principle disappoint, although perhaps that's more a reflection of my lack of knowledge or previous experience of their work.

Musically, the tracks are almost always built around nicely variated multiple percussion elements, with added squelchy effects, mixed in like a cartoon soundtrack (sic). There are not many guitars, tunes or complete songs, hence the mixtape feel. It does develop well as a piece; the first eight tracks bubble with exuberance and are largely uninterrupted by Albarn's voice, which tends to keep it upbeat! Albarn enters as a bit part on track 4, "Saturnz Barz," but is brilliantly overshadowed by Popcaan. Albarn leads things on track 8 for the first time, over-shadowing what could have been a massive collaboration with Grace Jones. After that, it's all downhill, emotionally. Treating his voice with various effects, this is somber, dour, hangover time, spiked nastily by the unfortunate "Sex Murder Party," featuring the aforementioned Mr. Principle.

The whole thing ends, however, with the enormously hopeful and positive vibe, "We Got The Power," featuring Jehnny Beth of Savages and Noel Gallagher of Oasis. Considering Albarn and Gallagher were bitter rivals during the halcyon days of Brit Pop, this coming together alone speaks volumes to the Brits facing Brexit.

As do many of the best ideas here, the track ends early, cut off after two minutes and 20 seconds. Does this hint at Damon Albarn's pessimism? Or is it a blatant attempt to repeat the biggest hit of his earlier career, Blur's "Song 2"?


Gorillaz - official site

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