BY NOAH CASTAGNA
British virtual band Gorillaz took to the world stage with their 2001 debut album of the same name, and from there the band rode a wave of popularity brought by hit singles like “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good Inc.”
The band, composed of the fictional characters 2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle and Russel Hobbs, was created by Blur frontman Damon Albarn and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett as a concept band highlighting a collaborative mix of alt-rock, hip-hop, and electronica.
Their newest album “Humanz” (framed as an after-party in the wake of the worst day on Earth) puts emphasis on the hip-hop aspect of the band, simultaneously making light dips into other genres like pop and R&B.
Before release, six of the twenty-five tracks from the Deluxe Album were dropped, some to lukewarm acceptance and others to high praise. Given a decent set of singles and an interest-peaking concept at the focus, I went into “Humanz” with a whole lot of hope but some slight skepticism (I wasn’t a fan of “We Got The Power” and “Ascension” out of the pre-release singles). Leading up to the release, the band had only been improving from “Gorillaz,” to “Demon Days,” to “Plastic Beach,” expanding on their wild concepts and memorable tunes with each new release. I think holding their music to this standard of constant improvement is what made “Humanz” so ultimately disappointing.
The album launches with the pre-release single “Ascension,” the only unredeemable song on the album. Other weak tracks on “Humanz” at least tried something weird, new or fun; “Ascension” is a bland track that brings nothing to the table in terms of message or instrumentals and is the only song I skip unconditionally on every listen. From there, the album gains some momentum: “Strobelite,” “Saturnz Barz,” and “Momentz” are all great listens that compliment each other incredibly well. “Strobelite” has a kicking electronic beat, and “Saturnz Barz” really grows on you with each listen. And though “Momentz” is probably the weakest of this triplet, hip hop trio De La Soul gives the song a special flavor just as they did previously with “Feel Good Inc.” and “Superfast Jellyfish.”
Unfortunately for “Humanz,” “Momentz” is one of a few songs (other notable instances include “Andromeda” and “The Apprentice”) that utilizes collaborators to great effect. In previous albums, other artists added a vibe that blended with Gorillaz in a way that still remained unique to the band. On “Demon Days,” the collaborators pulled the listeners into the music; on “Humanz,” the collaborators are at center focus to a detrimental degree- Noodle, despite being one of the shining stars of the band, is for the most part absent, and 2-D is constantly overstepped by collaborators. That isn’t to say Gorillaz shouldn’t include other artists: the band was, is, and will always be a collaborative project. But that also isn’t to say that a majority of an album should be collaborative efforts that obscure the band’s identity.
Another major problem with “Humanz” is its messaging: tracks like “Let Me Out” put far too much emphasis on specific individuals and circumstances to convey their ideas, and though censored, these instances date the album and dampen their potential for timeless impact. “Plastic Beach” sent a clear, immortal message about the environment with colorful imagery and narrative exploration, while “Humanz” resorts to petty insults that leave the album on a bitter, unconstructive note. Despite its title and concept, “Humanz” has very little meaningful to say about humanity, but still tries to anyway.
“Humanz” is not a bad album by any means; a great band took a great idea and made something that, while not great, is entertaining enough to warrant a relisten. And really, what does an album need to do but entertain the listener? Overall, the instrumentals are as expected from Gorillaz, with the genre blend making for an appealing selection of beats. And the album has some major standouts: “Strobelite,” “Saturnz Barz,” “Charger,” “Andromeda,” “Busted and Blue,” “Sex Murder Party,” and “The Apprentice” (off of the Deluxe Version) are all fantastic listens.
Yet it’s hard to come away from the release feeling immensely gratified or pleasantly surprised. Its standouts feel weighed down by the bland lyricism and superficial messaging elsewhere, and on the whole the songs don’t compliment each other as well as we’ve seen with past Gorillaz albums.
- Great instruments and genre blending tracks, with some big time standouts
- Does little with its interesting concept
- Makes pointless commentary with some bland lyricism throughout
Featured image by the Gorillaz