What went wrong with ‘Humanz’?
After 7 years of absence, Damon Albarn and his digital dynamics released ‘Humanz’ a post-Trump societal commentary.
On the 19th of January, a day before the inauguration of Donald Trump, the Gorillaz released their first single in seven years. Aptly titled, ‘Hallelujah Money’, the track exuded a range of eery, synth-heavy production, Albarn’s haunting vocals gasping, ‘How will we know? When the morning comes/ We are still human’ accompanying the sinister, yet somehow reassuring narration of British poet Benjamin Clementine. In association with the music video, a still shot of Clementine travelling upwards in the ‘Trump Towers’ elevator while footage of George Orwell's’ ‘Animal Farm’ and other stock footage streams behind, Albarn was conveying a blatantly obvious protest against the Trump administration. This act of defiance is nothing new, nor is Albarn’s lack of subtlety (see Dirty Harry) however, Albarn faced a slew of criticism for a ‘lack of originality, subtly and overall substance’ within the track. Furthermore, these criticisms would endure throughout the release of ‘Humanz’ the album released 3 months later.
However, Humanz contains a multitude of indisputable, noticeable flaws aside from its simple, almost-lazy subject matter. The most significant error of Albarn was being eminently conflicted within his agenda for the album. Tracks such as ‘Let Me Out’ and ‘Ascension’ exemplify a glaring critique upon the Trump administration, Police brutality and the overall socio-economic status of the United States. All these points are justified, valid topics (despite their potential to dreadfully age the album in subsequent years), however Albarn, days prior to the release of the album informed media outlets he was censoring any mention of ‘Trump’ within the album as ‘I didn’t want to give the most famous man on Earth anymore fame’. Thus, Albarn replaced Trump with a sonically jarring ‘blip’, a foolish, irrelevant censorship considering the fundamental theme and basis of the album is dependent upon, ‘conceptualising the album as a party for the end of the world, like if Trump won’ (Pusha T via Beats 1). Thus, Albarn’s censorship is more than inconsequential, it’s contradictory and thus degrades the entire motive of the album.
Humanz, on a fundamental level, neglects the factors that compose a Gorillaz project. The track-list boasts an impressive culmination of musicians such as Pusha T, Vince Staples, Danny Brown, Kali Uchis and Benjamin Clementine, however this wide array of artist impedes significantly upon the final product of the album. Damon Albarn takes a second-position to the features within this album and thus, the album lacks the signature interplay of Albarn’s stellar vocals with an experimental range of artists. Furthermore, Albarn and his production team fails to effectively use the features they have at their disposal, with tracks such as ‘Submission’ featuring Danny Brown resulting in a cacophony of ambient, droning vocals by Kelela immensely contrasting the brash, rapid vocals of Brown. ‘Humanz’ could have been excused for an overuse of features and as consequence of this, a lack of Albarn would have been justified, however, the misuse of features within this album results in a chaotic, sloppy final product that sadly lacks the signature charm that is synonymous with a Gorillaz project.
As time proceeds the Gorillaz seem to divert further and further away from their lore-centric elements, and as a result of this, ‘Humanz’ feels awfully shallow. Comparing the roll-out of Gorillaz extraordinary 2010 project ‘Plastic Beach’ a compilation of music videos, websites, documentaries and short films all compiled together to strengthen the lore which has been an integral element of the Gorillaz appeal. ‘Humanz’ on the other hand, had multiple, non-canon commercials and a collection of Instagram E-books, non of which are intrinsically linked to the album. Thus, ‘Humanz’ feels like an unbalanced project, one which focused too much on its political message impeded within the music, ignoring a central element of Gorillaz, the band itself. A large demographic of Gorillaz fans are particularly focused upon the lore and phases of the band, therefore removing the mythos of the band removes a significant component of Gorillaz.