Gorillaz – Humanz (Album Review)
The Playlist That Will Spin As the Ship Goes Down
What do you do when your “worst case scenario” concept becomes an actuality? That’s what Gorillaz creator and musical craftsman, Damon Albarn was faced with after months of collaborations and sit-downs on the virtual bands latest outing Humanz. Its been buzzing around the music world for sometime that collaborators were basically told to approach their sections as a “what would happen if Trump won” release. Most notably, Pusha T saying as much during a Beats 1 interview. The results of the election then turned the somewhat cynical and melodramatic project turned out to be something a prophetic tableau. Providing a cathartic outlet for both the musicians and the listeners. Whether or not this makes for a pleasant musical experience depends almost as much on your political viewpoints as it does your existing stance on Gorillaz. Nevertheless, Humanz gives you everything you already knew and drapes it all in a macabre shroud that you can’t help bu nod your head to occasionally.
Yes, Gorillaz is a fictitious band. The avatar for an already established musician/producer, able to swerve in and out of genres and public consciousness on a whim. Their last official album, Plastic Beach was seven years ago. Released seemingly in response the end of the Bush administration. A tapestry of dark optimism in a post-Bush world. Not quite ready to give Obama undue credit, the album is as untrusting as it is idealistic. Humanz suffers from no such duality. It is brooding, downtrodden and somewhat nihilistic. It has all the trappings of your typical, if there is such a thing, Gorillaz album, with almost none of the cheer. There is no “Feel Good Inc” or “Stylo” really. Instead, we get the audio equivalent of the “This is fine” meme for about an hour, and when the last track stops, your left to wonder if you’ll be looking at the results of Project Mayhem outside your window.
The doom and gloom aesthetic doesn’t ruin the album, as some may be afraid of. It just unleashes the darker side of some of the quests, of which, as usual, there are plenty. From Pusha T to Bobby Womac, D.R.A.M and Grace Jones, Humanz hits all the normal beats. While the sitting President isn’t mentioned by name, Albarn clearly told each singer/rapper to go in the booth and let loose their feelings. Omitting 45’s name along the way. The result is something of a hodgepodge venting session from song to song. Leaving the instrumentation to carry the tonal weight for most of the album.
Ever present are the muddy guitars, sleepy synth lines and big drums. Most chorus’ sounds like they’re either being sang from behind an electric aquarium or from the other room through bullhorn. You’re not going to be surprised by the sound at this point. In fact, the only real change of pace is how hip-hop heavy Humanz is. As if Albarn knew that that specific genre would speak more to the concept than the post-alternative, EDM, neo-jazz trappings of former projects. Those pieces are still present, but lyrical ferocity takes center stage at many points on the album.
While Humanz is 20 tracks long, there are six interludes/skits that break up the album. None coming in longer than 30 seconds, and offering no further insight to the work than the songs around them. If anything, the serve more as instruments of chaos than cohesion. Throwing you off of whatever trail you thought you were on, representing the disorienting nature of the full project.
Gorillaz may only come around when Albarn feels we “need” them, usually on the heels of tragedy or national unrest, but par for the course, the music doesn’t offer answers or relief, just a mirror or historical rundown. Humanz is the first to offer something of an outlook, and however unpleasant, the music carries you through. It reminded me of the first party scene in Raw, yes, the cannibal coming of age flick. Justine’s first night at school sees her taken through several hazing rituals, before being led to a sweaty box of a rave. We, the audience know what is on the horizon, but in this moment, we allow ourselves and the main character to just dance. To let the night take her, because it’s all we have left to hold onto. That’s Humanz. It’s the reason you buy that case of cheap beer with your last couple bucks before payday, because why the hell not. Party through it. The sun will rise tomorrow, and i’ll have the handstamps and smeared makeup to prove I made it through the night.