Highlights: Gorillaz, ‘Humanz’


★★★½

Gorillaz, Humanz © ParlophoneAlternative virtual band Gorillaz returns with an ambitious and quirky, yet enjoyable fifth studio album, ‘Humanz.’ ‘Humanz’ is star-studded. 

Gorillaz returns with its first new album in nearly seven years, Humanz. The alternative brainchild of Damon Albarn and illustrator Jamie Hewlett, Gorillaz has always delivered an interesting musical experience. Humanz doesn’t alter that perception in the least, maintaining the quirkiness that makes the band special. Humanz has its flaws, but there’s plenty to like about their fifth studio album.

“Ascension”

Vince Staples kicks off the album right with the high-flying “Ascension.” Essentially, Staples and Albarn tackle heavy topics including racism, equality, and the current state of the world.  “Ascension,” hence, is a song for turbulent times such as these. “Are we obsidian?” That’s the question asked on the groovy gem “Strobelite”, featuring Peven Everett on lead vocals.  Although “Strobelite” benefits from is danceable, electronic production, it’s not particularly easygoing.  The record seems to question if unity is indeed possible again, referencing the obsidian lyric once more.

“Saturnz Barz”

Promo single “Saturnz Barz,” featuring Popcaan, doesn’t stand out as a hit necessarily, but has its attributes. “Momentz,” featuring De La Soul, doesn’t supplant “Feel Good, Inc.,” the definitive collaboration between both collectives. Nonetheless, the energy is appreciated, and the production work is interesting, even though it lacks finesse. “Submission, featuring Kelela and Danny Brown seemingly has good intentions, but doesn’t quite work. Kelela is better suited for this reflective number than the edgier Brown, while the production is so-so.

“Busted and Blue”

On “Charger,” Gorillaz gets an assist from Grace Jones.  It’s a messy, yet hard-hitting, joint with a sexy vibe. “Andromeda” follows, featuring D.R.A.M. The problem is, D.R.A.M.’s appearance seems like a total missed opportunity.  Still, “Andromeda” is groovy AF. Ballad “Busted and Blue” is one of the more beautiful moments from Humanz.  Eschewing any guest features, it’s all Damon Albarn.  Heavy, it questions existence and the power of computers.

“Where does it come from? / When everything was outside / Busted and blue / How in the universe / Through the lithium / Busted and blue.”

“Let Me Out”

“Carnival” arrives, featuring Anthony Hamilton.  The biggest bummer about the record is listeners only get a limited amount of the soulfulness that characterizes Hamilton. “Let Me Out,” featuring Mavis Staples and Pusha T is the better record. Pusha T remains tough as nails, while Mavis Staples flaunts her signature, soulful grit. Pusha T mourns the end of the Obama, as well as his safety and a fair chance at life. Staples, references the end of the world. Albarn fits into the picture soundly as well, expressing his views of a flawed society.

“Sex Murder Party,” featuring Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz, is a groovy, yet dark number, warning of the dangers of sex and partying. Follow up “She’s My Collar” is captivating, featuring Kali Uchis.  The M.O.? A secret lover: “She’s the one I’m running with / She’s my collar.”

“Hallelujah Money”  

“Hallelujah Money,” featuring Benjamin Clementine, speaks on the power of money.  Like the album as a whole, President Donald Trump isn’t explicitly mentioned, but anti-Trump sentiment is easily perceptible.  This is a very unique song, thanks to Clementine’s distinct vocals, the production, and the choral vocals.  While this isn’t perfectly assembled, “Hallelujah Money” conceptually is perfect. “We Got the Power” fittingly concludes, featuring Noel Gallagher and Jehnny Beth. The song title gives away the script, supporting the RESIST movement; this is an anthem of love trumps hate.

Final Thoughts 

All said and done, there’s more to like about Humanz than to criticize or hate about it. Not every guest appearance works, and at times, the production and songs themselves are ever too quirky.  Nonetheless, given the age for the big pop album filled with multiple styles, Humanz fits the mold. Characterizing this effort as classic would be an overstatement, but there are ample experiences to make this project a pleasing listen overall.

Gems: “Ascension,” “Strobelite,” “Busted and Blue,” “Let Me Out” & “Hallelujah Money”

Gorillaz • Humanz • Parlophone • Release: 4.28.17
Photo Credit: Parlophone
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