Gorillaz- Humanz Album Review
(By: Thomas Rodriguez)
Gorillaz release a decent but inconsistent pre-apocalyptic dance album
“The sky is fallin’ baby, drop that ass ‘fore it crash” raps Vince Staples, the guest featured artist on Humanz standout “Ascension”. This is the mission statement of Gorillaz on their latest studio album; the world is ending soon, so let’s just have some fun! Considering how Gorillaz (a virtual band side project spearheaded by Blur frontman Damon Albarn and artist Jaime Hewlett) has gone from obscurity to international fame in its lifespan, it’s not surprising they would try to cover the state of turmoil that the world was going through at the time with Humanz, released April 28, 2017. However, while the virtual band (comprised of cartoon members 2D, Murdoc, Russel, and Noodle) do accomplish this goal of dancing at the gates of hell with a good amount of tracks on this album, they fall short of the standard of quality they have raised in the past.
As this standard edition of Humanz is 20 songs long (14 excluding the 6 strange but atmospheric interludes peppered throughout the album) there’s a lot of material for anyone to listen to, both good and bad. The main problem that’s found in the album lies mainly in consistency, both in the overall quality in songs compared to others and the songs themselves. Throughout the album, there are very few moments where Albarn, the supposed “frontman” of this virtual collaboration even has vocals as his character, 2D. This is to be expected of course, as Gorillaz itself is not so much a band (in real life) as it is a massive conjoining of different artists, mostly those that Albarn hand picks. The list is definitely impressive (Danny Brown, Benjamin Clementine, Kali Uchis, and D.R.A.M are just a few of the featured artists here), but with so little presence from the “frontman”, especially in comparison to previous records, the album feels less like a Gorillaz record and more like a compilation album.
However, consistent presence from Albarn’s vocals isn’t just the only thing that hampers the experience of the Humanz. Many of the tracks in the album come so close to achieving the excellence of past Gorillaz work, but ultimately fail because of one or two production or performance flaws that kill the song completely. Whether it be the great De La Soul performance combined with a terrible, overbearing beat on “Momentz” or a too-short runtime and clunky mixing with Anthony Clementine’s great vocals on “Carnival”, there are simply too many times where a track nearly hits the mark, but instead misses completely and dives into the abyss of musical disappointments. With this being said, the production definitely sounds great on songs that do work, such as the heavy synths and thick bass on “Saturnz Barz” or the distorted guitar riffs on “Charger”, and provide the attendees of Gorillaz’ pre-doom party something to nod their heads to. The presence of synthetic grooves and lack of real instrumentation definitely gives off the atmosphere of being in a club.
Considering how consistency is a running issue throughout the album, it’s rather surprising that for the most part, the first half of the album starts off relatively strong. Songs like “Ascension”, “Strobelite”, and even “Submission” are strong alternative pop songs, with great featured artists peppered through each song. Vince Staples bringing explosive energy to the track alongside 2D on a whirlwind of a track on “Ascension”, Peven Everett crooning over a modern disco beat on “Strobelite”, and Kelela and Danny Brown coming together over a great, punchy synth beat on “Submission” all set the bar extremely high as guest artists. At this point, the lack of 2D would be okay, so long as the guests and beats pulled their weight. Even so, the best song, “Andromeda”, was a beautiful and jazzy dance song starring mostly 2D, and provided a level quality that surpassed even the best of Gorillaz’ songs. The album after this point, however, seems to hit a wall. Considering how Humanz was involved with commenting on the Trump presidency, it most likely hit his famous wall. Starting with the slow, yet ultimately boring and disappointing “Busted and Blue”, the tracklist seems to shut down the party than keep it going. Although standouts “Let Me Out” and “She’s My Collar” are moments of levity that continue the great production and features of the majority of the first half (Pusha T kills his verse on the former, and Albarn’s performance on the latter is hypnotizing), the rest of the album just….slows down. “Hallelujah Money” has an incredibly misplaced Benjamin Clementine crooning about Trump on a strange, almost uncomfortable beat that doesn’t help his voice at all, “We Got the Power” has a horrible mixing of combined vocals, and “Sex Murder Party” is so atrocious, both lyrically and production wise, that it holds the spot of the worst Gorillaz song for me. Thanks guys!
Overall, Humanz is a decent record. Not terrible, but falls very short of the high watermark of past Gorillaz projects. Sure, it’s a party, and an interesting one at that. But if you decide to attend the Humanz dance party, be ready to be occasionally confused by what the DJ puts on.
Tracks to Save: “Ascension”, “Strobelite”, “Submission”, “Andromeda”, “Let Me Out”
Tracks to Skip: “Momentz”, “Sex Murder Party”, “Hallelujah Money”, “We Got the Power”
Did you like this album? Any comments or criticism? Comment down below and let me know! I’d love to hear what others think!