Seven years after their last release, Plastic Beach, Gorillaz are back with their fresh new album, Humanz.
Until now, the last seven years since Plastic Beach was released in 2010 have been very quiet from Gorillaz. Rumours that their time had passed became more believable by the day, with Damon Albarn indulging in his own solo work releasing his Everyday Robots album, as well as working alongside various African musicians for his Africa Express project. These rumours, I am happy to say, are no more. Gorillaz are alive and kicking, returning with a whole host of artists on their new album, Humanz.
Gorillaz aren’t ones to shy away from evolving their style, and they haven’t disappointed this time round. In true Gorillaz style, they have produced an album with an eclectic mix of artists, both old and new, ranging from musical icon Grace Jones to Jamaican ‘deejay’ Popcaan. The song Charger is a Heavy Metal meets New Wave Brit Pop combo, with Albarn ‘singing’ in a strong Essex accent alongside Grace Jones singing very soulfully over a heavy guitar riff. This song is then followed by Andromeda (after a three second interlude in which the words “elevator going up” are said). Andromeda contrasts Charger immensely, with its chilled-out sound which pays homage to Bobby Womack and Albarn’s wife’s mother, Ethel, both of whom died since the last Gorillaz album.
‘Innovative’ and ‘diverse’ are therefore the two words that spring to mind when describing this album. In a world experiencing the rise of Donald Trump and the wrath of Brexit, it is easy to see that tolerance is becoming an ever-more hostile phenomenon. It feels to me as if Damon Albarn and his gang of featuring artists are out to change this. In an episode for the podcast, Song Exploder, Albarn said that this album contained “nothing acoustic at all because (he) wanted it to be in the future” and that the theme was “imagining something in the near future and (making) a party record out of it”. He has succeeded in this challenging of intolerance with the plethora of artists on the album. It is enlightening to have so many different artists both immensely famous and relatively unknown as it breaks the mould created by the current chart industry.
With the immense amount of collaborations, it is easy to see why some may see this as more of a collection of songs by the featuring artists under Gorillaz writing credits. However, for me this would be an unfair comment; the songs still contain hugely recognisable Gorillaz sounds, not to mention the fact that Albarn wrote most of the songs. When I first heard Ascension, I identified strong grime influences, but the more I listened to it, the more it became a Gorillaz hip-hop tune like the ones we know and love from previous albums.
Jamie Hewlett, the visual artistic other half of Gorillaz, is also back with excellent artwork. The album art and music videos all continue the Gorillaz story, and the rumoured Gorillaz TV show is definitely something I would look forward to seeing. Without Hewlett’s visuals, Gorillaz would be a mere collaboration band instead of the musical odyssey they are today.
If hip-hop, rock, pop and dance music had a four-way love child, it would be Humanz.
All in all, this album is excellent. At its heart, it remains very Gorillaz while evolving with the times we live in. It is great that the world is being given the chance to listen to fantastic new artists alongside legendary artists (whom I fear many young people may have never heard of). The back-beat of many of the songs is similar, which may lead some of you to think it is a repetitive album, however, I would advise you all to listen to it intensely first time round, engage in the journey that is Humanz, and then enjoy playing it at parties for years to come.