Album Review: Gorillaz – Humanz

The virtual band created by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett are back to celebrate the end of the world in style.

Humanz

Damon Albarn is a man that never seems to stop moving. Having been the only artist to headline Glastonbury with two different groups, it’s safe to say he is one of the most highly respected men in the music industry. Last year, rumours were sparked of a reunion between him and artist Jamie Hewlett, whom together are the creators of virtual band Gorillaz, after various teaser clips appeared on Hewlett’s Instagram. On January 19 2017, the Gorillaz reunion was confirmed, with the release of Hallelujah Money, the band’s first release since 2010’s fourth album The Fall. Following a string of track releases in the past few months, we are finally able to listen to the band’s fifth album which in typical Gorillaz style, is an iconic blend of collaborations and genres.

Albarn stated very early on at the start of the latest project that the political storm that’s blown over the globe across the past few years would be a big influence in the album and from the start of Humanz, the theme of chaos interlinks with end of the world proclamations. Ascension kicks off the album in style with Vince Staple’s flowing rap touching on a variety of topics including inequality and racism. Lyrics “Heard the world is ending soon” and “The sky is falling baby” upbeat, fast tempo nature to the track makes it seem more of a party to celebrate the end. Further apocalyptic themes can be seen throughout the album. Strobelite’s disco groove and shuffling beat tackles humanity’s fear of each other whilst lyrics “Are we obsidian? / Is this how it ends?” hint towards our failure to get along with one another, a failure which Albarn predict’s could lead to a world of isolation and eventual chaos. The smooth, golden vocals of R&B singer Kerela contrast with rapper Danny Brown’s anxiety on Submission. Together along with 2-D, they face the topic of time and the issue that comes with finite time. Brown’s masterful performance is a wonderful projection of mental health, a topic that couldn’t be more relevant than it is in today’s society, with lyrics “At times, I feel like giving up / ‘Cause it feels like I’ve had enough” showing an alternative way of how society’s failings of the welfare system are causing our world to slowly collapse.

Whilst mental health is one of the important messages embedded within Submission, the track projects one of the core themes of Humanz as a whole. Albarn and Hewlett both stated from the very beginning of the project that the political crisis that is constantly developing, was the spark that ignited this album. The never-ending cycle of greed, lust and power that is mentioned in Submission is a direct shot fired at today’s elite who depend on money to gain influence rather than hard work. Anthony Hamilton’s soulful vocals ignite Carnival, a track which compares the experience of a funfair with hard reality. Lyrics “We play to win, just to find the dark” hints at the empty feeling one can have despite achieving a goal whilst the line “Keep you satisfied, while they rob us blind” compares rapid consumerism with a carnival in that we allow ourselves to indulge in the games and the spectacle without realising that we are being lied to.

One of the album’s standout track’s, Let Me Out, is a desperate cry for help in today’s America following the election of Donald Trump as President. The track enlists the help of soul legend Mavis Staples and rap star Pusha T, whose appearance is one of the best collaborations seen on a Gorillaz track to date. Lines “Obama is gone, who is left to save me? and “They say the devil’s at work and Trump is calling favours” is a despairing call against the new president. Elsewhere throughout the track, there are mentions of police brutality, racism, fear and scepticism, all of which are embedded in verses that flow in an incredible lyrical style yet retain enough bite to make the track powerful and meaningful.

Gorillaz 2017

Perhaps the most political track on the album is Hallelujah Money, the first release from the album, which features Mercury Prize winning artist Benjamin Clementine. A direct shot at the influence of money and race politics in the US elections, it describes a dream-like America that Trump promised his voters and one in which no negative change will occur. Clementine’s story telling vocals and spoken word verse focus on Trump, specifically his controversial Mexican border wall and his controversial sexual views on women. Lyrics “Touch my friend / And the whole beasts of nations desire / Power” compare government lust for power to animals’ primitive urge to assert dominance. The track as a whole dances in a slightly uncomfortable yet intriguing manor, perhaps made deliberately so to highlight the mistrust and uncomfortableness that some American people have with Trump as their president.

Politics and greed are not the only core targets of the album. Technology is an area the band have decided to hone towards, rather ironically considering the concept of Gorillaz is so reliant on the virtual world. Into I Switched My Robot Off highlights the over reliance on technology. The break away from modern technology is highlighted to cause issues within the human mind due to past reliance on it. Grace Jones’ mystical cameo on Charger is a reminder of how technology is taking over our lives and way of living. The track sees Jones dancing around the track in an addictive trance like state whilst a huge guitar line loops around in a futuristic warning. Charger is also a moment to hear more of 2-D’s iconic vocals in the chorus. His reflective vocal performance on Busted and Blue is one of the more personal moments on the album. The track sees the virtual singer questioning what might have been of his life were he to have made different decisions. Part existential crisis, part serene and atmospheric, the track mentions technology’s future capabilities and the potential for it to eventually rule over us all.

Elsewhere, She’s My Collar and Sex Murder Party are intoxicating insights into the emotions of love, lust and jealousy, with both tracks displaying an emotional hold that an individual has over the narrator of the track, with Sex Murder Party accusing the parter of deliberately sabotaging his mindset. Track closer We Got The Power is the perfect way to summarise an album that throughout has called towards the apocalypse and humanity’s capability to self destruct. Savages’ Jenny Beth and Noel Gallagher feature, on a track which was made to remind everyone that they can survive anything whilst also highlighting the need to help one another. Main lyrics “We got the power to be loving each other / No matter what happens” is a strong rally cry and maybe, with the inclusion of Albarn’s former foe Gallagher on the track, it’s a more inspirational message as it shows that even the worst of enemies can eventually get along.

We never know exactly what we are going to get from a new Gorillaz album but on reflection it’s clear to see that the twenty tracks on the record are some of the band’s most important pieces of music made so far. If Jamie Hewlett’s visuals for the live shows are anywhere near as good as this album, then prepare to be amazed as Humanz could well be the perfect soundtrack to the twenty-first century at this current time.

9/10

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