Gorillaz — Humanz Review
Gorillaz is a virtual band formed by Blur frontman, Damon Albarn, and “Tank Girl” creator, Jamie Hewlett, in the early 2000s. The group also features four animated members named 2D (vocals), Murdoc (bass), Noodle (guitar) and Russel (drums). Each virtual member represents some sort of musical archetype. Throughout the group’s history, Albarn and his collaborators have recorded some of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful alternative singles in the 2000s. Songs like “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good Inc.” still continue to receive radio play and rack up tens of millions of views on YouTube despite both of them being over a decade old at this point. Gorillaz’ music is infamous for their experimentation by blending together a myriad of various genres ranging from hip-hop to trip-hop to even orchestral. While they have always featured a variety of artists on their past albums, this is only the second time where the collaborators’ names have been clearly labeled on the songs.
My personal experience with Gorillaz has always been somewhat divisive. In one sense, I love the concept of a virtual band, the story arc hidden behind every album, the beautiful music videos, almost every single, and even some of the deeper cuts. The one problem I’ve had personally with Gorillaz is that I have found every album difficult to sit through entirely.
Even though the standard version of each album is less than an hour long, I still end up getting bored about three-fourths of the way into it. This is because to me, there always seems to be a lot of filler spread throughout each album. While I don’t necessarily think these songs are worthless, I constantly find myself questioning their purpose on the album.
Regardless, when I first heard about the upcoming release of a new album two years ago, I was overwhelmed with excitement. Most of this excitement probably stemmed from my anticipation for the newest story arc since “Plastic Beach” ended on such a cliffhanger, however, I was also excited for Gorillaz to release new music since it’s been over five years since the mediocre release of “The Fall”.
My interest was definitely peaked earlier this year when I saw the massive features list including contemporary rappers Danny Brown, D.R.A.M. and Vince Staples as well as legacy singer-songwriter, Carly Simon. However, the most surprising collaborator on the album (as a writing feature) is former Oasis cofounder, Noel Gallagher, who notoriously feuded with Albarn during the height of the Britpop wars in the 90s.
Soon enough, the hype reached its climax and the album was finally released. After listening to the deluxe version of “Humanz” several times, here are my subjective thoughts.
My first impression after my first listen was that this is easily Gorillaz’ hardest and most energetic album since their self-titled debut. While that isn’t saying much considering the presence of much louder and more ferocious musical groups, it is still more energizing than their last three releases.
Easily, my favorite song off the album is “Ascension” featuring modern gangsta rapper Vince Staples. As usual, Vince brings his unique vocal inflection as well as edgy lyrics to the table. However, instead of rapping over his typical dark, muddy instrumental, Albarn has him performing over a bright, almost cheery, electronic beat . While this is somewhat of a contradiction considering Vince’s gritty lyrics, this isn’t a deterrent for me. In fact, it almost makes the track sinister in a way.
At first, I wasn’t super into the lead single, “Saturnz Bars” because I felt like the autotune effects on Popcaan’s vocals were obnoxious. However, within the context of the album I’ve come to appreciate the dark and gloomy tone the song takes on. This is especially effective during 2D/Albarn’s verse where he sounds like he’s completely defeated and given up all hope.
The song “Submission” is another banger with this driving electronic beat going on throughout the song. While Kelela’s feature is noteworthy, the real standout performance in this song is Danny Brown. Danny raps with his normal wild, nasal voice, however, his lyrics surprisingly take a more depressing direction. While this may not be abnormal considering how depressing some of his own songs can be, what is unusual is that this subject matter is typically saved for the more low key tracks rather than a banger.
“Ticker Tape” is a cute ballad between 2D, Carly Simon and Kali Uchis. When it comes to the more low-key tracks, this is definitely the best in my opinion. Listening to this song feels like riding in a hot air balloon as the breeze slowly pushes you along. Sometimes the instrumental doesn’t match up exactly with the vocals so it can sound somewhat awkward. However, 2D, Carly and Kali come together to release the most relaxing song in the tracklisting.
Something else worth mentioning is all of the interludes sprinkled throughout the album. While I’m not usually a fan of interludes because I feel like they interrupt the flow of an album, these seem to actually add to the album’s quality. They each seem to have an almost avant-garde sense of humor attached to them.
Fortunately, there were only two songs I outright hated. The first is “Andromeda”. This song features rapper and singer D.R.A.M., an artist who I have been following for the last few months and whose music I have enjoyed greatly. The problem with his feature, however, is that I don’t even know where he pops up in the song. Even after five complete listens I could not pinpoint where exactly his feature was. It wasn’t until I went on Genius on discovered he sang four lines from the bridge to the first chorus. This revelation makes me wonder, “What was the point of even including him on the album?” As much I enjoy D.R.A.M. for both his personality and his music, I found his contribution to this track virtually non-existent. When I went specifically to where his portion was, I still could not believe it was him. Rather than his usual goofy voice, to me, all I heard were faint R&B backup singers that I could never pick out of a lineup. The only redeeming factor of this song is the instrumental which has a decently catchy dance beat on it.
The only song I despised more than “Andromeda” was “We Got the Power”. Despite a collaboration between Albarn, Noel Gallagher, Jehnny Beth from the post-punk band, Savages, and D.R.A.M. once again, this song fell miserably flat on its face. Beth’s voice does not match with the tone of the song in the slightest. Her voice is simultaneously gloomy and wild. Two traits that typically don’t go well with a song trying to preach peace and positivity. The chorus, “We got the power to be loving each other no matter what happens. We’ve got the power to do that” is painfully cheesy. I’m not against the idea of happy songs or even songs that border on naivety. However, take the lyrics along with how awkwardly paced and clunky the vocals are and you’ve got what is probably one of Gorillaz’ worst song in their entire discography.
Overall, this album is just okay for me. There are some incredibly noteworthy moments throughout the album, however, in between these moments, there is a lot of filler listeners are gonna have to go through. Even though there were only two songs I outright hated, several of the other songs just seemed incredibly lackluster and unnecessary. Despite being neutral on this album as a whole, I look forward to future releases by Gorillaz as well as any upcoming music videos.
Best Tracks: Ascension, Saturnz Bars, Submission, Ticker Tape, Interludes
Worst Tracks: Andromeda, We Got the Power