Gorillaz – Humanz
Damon Albarn wants to ensure he does everything he can to ensure Gorillaz remains relevant. Everything about this virtual band has had a futuristic bent since its conception almost two decades ago.
So it makes sense that Albarn has looked to the current artists to ensure he can, at 49 years of age, still give us an album with a little relevance.
While Albarn has again convinced some seriously impressive names from the past – Grace Jones, Mavis Staples, a return from De La Soul – he’s leaning heavily on newer artists. And it seems a little short-sighted.
It’s important to note, first of all, that Humanz is a very good record. But it’s not necessarily going to satisfy those looking for the next Plastic Beach.
If you love Vince Staples, you’ll love the bouncy ‘Ascension’, on which he features. If you’re into the dubby electro of Popcaan, then ‘Saturnz Barz’ will hit the spot. If you like Danny Brown – or at the very least didn’t hate The Avalanches’ ‘Frankie Sinatra’ – then ‘Submission’, his collaboration with Kelala, might be one of the best songs of the year.
There’s a bit of a catch 22 at play here. Stop evolving with pop trends and the band gets boring. Go all-in on the modern sound and people claim you’re clutching for relevance.
Gorillaz fans who aren’t too keen on hearing the more cutting edge hip hop that populates much of the start of the album should still find a bit to enjoy here though.
Peven Everett lends his voice to ‘Strobelite’, a nice dancefloor friendly soulful house jam. De La Soul do what they do best over the top of a very slamming, militaristically straight beat.
The other big highlights have Albarn in the spotlight. ‘Busted & Blue’ is a tense, stripped back ballad. ‘Andromeda’ features rapper du jour D.R.A.M, but Albarn takes the lead on the cosmic soul-pop jam and makes it sound glorious.
Of course, for all the wanting to keep up with the times, the album sounds most ‘futuristic’ when two of its most seasoned artists are featured. Albarn leads the maddening ‘Charger’, with 68-year-old new-wave/post-disco queen Grace Jones supplying scant (but terrifying) vocals as a counterpoint. As a fan, it’d be nice to hear more of her, but she plays a perfectly fitting role on the song.
Humanz features a wild grab bag of influences, more so than usual for Albarn, and while every artist here is great, the argument that they belong together on the one record is less convincing than usual.
It’s a pretty great bunch of songs, but it feels more like a chance for Albarn to convince us – or maybe himself – that he remains a relevant part of the pop conversation, rather than a guy who was once in a huge band.
Whether you like Humanz or not, you’ve got to give him credit for moving with the times.