Will Craigie reviews the virtual quartet’s return album, Humanz.
“The sky is falling…”
And so begins Gorillaz fourth ‘official’ album (2011’s The Fall felt more like an experimental mixtape) and things are looking bleak. Gorillaz being Blur’s Damon Albarn’s more political outlet, it would be unnatural for it not to absorb the current climate and be seen as a response to the events for the past few years. Much has been suggested that it’s a party soundtrack to the end of the world, but it feel more like an epitaph, this concept made apparent throughout with references to power, racism, hope, resilience, death, technology and materialism. It combines pop hooks with social awareness, which itself is a rarity, but is not contrived with it – instead rather profound. It also has Grace Jones making strange noises and Mavis Staples and Pusha T collaborating. And Albarn singing with Britpop nemesis (who once hoped Albarn would “catch AIDS and die”) Noel Gallagher. Yes, this is a Gorillaz album and the world has gone mad.
Humanz can’t help but be seen as a sequel to 2005’s extremely successful Demon Days, right down the similar album covers to the concept of a world in turmoil (Iraq, Bush and the environment. Ah, simpler times), which indicates not only a lack of progress but that fact we are actually moving backwards. However, strangely this record is more joyous and life affirming than Demon Days. Yes, their is an aura of sadly truthful darkness which hangs over the album (especially in the menacing Hallelujah Money, a track which eerily predicted the 2016 election result and asks, “When the morning comes, will we still be human?”) but songs like Sex, Murder, Party and Momentz (a more industrial, mad twin of Feel Good Inc) revel in the chaos and put a middle finger up to it.
One of the main strengths of Gorillaz has always been it’s diverse choice of collaborators which span continents and genres (accurately reflecting the wide breadth of the music scene of the time) and somehow making it work (Vince Staples brings urgency to Ascension, while Mavis Staples is a voice of guiding light in Let Me Out; underrated magic can be found with Peven Everett in the Chicago house flecked album highlight Strobelite). This does of course result in a lack of consistency, and Albarn tries his best to hold it all together with 80s synthpop/dance and hip-hop influences and it does overall sound modern and fresh, albeit slightly dated on the odd track. While once Gorillaz could be argued to be a vanity project for Albarn, his gradual move behind to production duties is most apparent here than within the previous Gorillaz albums which is shame as two of the best tracks on the album-the reflective but joyous Andromeda (about the death of his partner’s mum and his friend, soul legend Bobby Womack), and the beautiful stripped back despair of Busted and Blue – which features Albarn solely in the spotlight. The album succeeds in dealing with a chaotic world, if only the album itself was slightly less so full of chaos. Still, as the strangely powerful optimism of We Got The Power reaches you, it becomes apparent what a solid comeback from Gorillaz Humanz is; Albarn has created an album that already may be considered one of the strongest of 2017 so far.