Gorillaz, the critically acclaimed virtual rock band and brainchild of musician Damon Albarn and comic artist Jamie Hewlett, released their fifth studio album, Humanz. The band consists of virtual members 2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle and Russel Hobbs. Humanz is the first Gorillaz album released since 2010, and it seemed to be on the right track with five solid promotional singles. However, the full project generally failed to live up the high expectations that long-time fans have for Gorillaz.
The 20-song album (26 if you get the deluxe version) certainly delivers a high quantity of tracks that Gorillaz fans have been desperate for over the past few years, but at times, it feels bloated and disjointed as an album. It starts with a magnificent intro that sets up the themes of post-apocalyptic technology, which permeates the album and smoothly transitions to perhaps the most exciting song on the album, “Ascension.” Featuring stellar verses by Vince Staples over a manic beat, this starts the album with a punch to the face in the best way possible. However, the next track, “Strobelite,” leaves much to be desired. While the song itself isn’t bad, it sounds like an incredibly generic house track featuring singer Peven Everett. There is almost no trace of Gorillaz in this song, and this is only the second real song of the album.
Unfortunately, “Strobelite” is indicative of the album as a whole, as many of the songs feel like frontman Albarn’s excuse to produce tracks for his favorite artists. This would be fine if this was one of Albarn’s solo projects, but Gorillaz carries with it an expectation to play into the unique aspect of a virtual band with an interesting cast of characters — a feature sorely lacking on most of the tracks here.
While there is a plethora of missteps and questionable decisions on this album (don’t even get me started on the bizarre and boring “Hallelujah Money” or SoundCloud quality “Sex Murder Party”), there are also quite a few highlights. “Charger” actually sounds like a true Gorillaz track and has a nasty driving guitar groove that adds a lot of grit to the track. The Grace Jones feature is one of the few features on the album that doesn’t completely dominate the track, as she contributes otherworldly ad-libs that compliment 2-D’s vocals. The middle of the album proves to be the best section and, not coincidently, is the section that feels less overpowering — including the only featureless song on the album, “Busted and Blue.” The melancholy, space-themed ballad brings a moment of genuine emotion in a largely overproduced tracklist and actually brings that fantasy of a virtual band with fictional characters that makes Gorillaz so special. A highlight in the last half of the album is “She’s My Collar,” with the stunning vocals of Kali Uchis brings energy and steadies the album a bit after the rocky “Sex Murder Party.” Other tracks to check out include “Andromeda,” which brings a similar house style as “Strobelite” but maintains the Gorillaz flavor and “We Got the Power,” the catchy, though a bit simple, closer to the album.
Humanz turned out to be an overall disappointment compared to the band’s previous work. It is very hard to come back after seven years and still maintain the consistency that fans have come to expect from Gorillaz throughout their career. However, Humanz definitely has some highlights that recapture the magic that made the band’s previous work so engaging with fans. Fans expect a Gorillaz album to play into the idea of the virtual band, and this album did not have that level of immersion that previous projects did. One can sense the lack of creative impact Hewlett had on the album. Going forward, if they release another album under the Gorillaz moniker, they should play into the unique aspect of the band that fans love. You should give this album a listen, especially the highlight tracks, but don’t expect the grand return of Gorillaz. For that, we just might have to wait some more.