When Damon Albarn and artist flat mate Jamie Hewlett decided to humorously create a ‘manufactured boy band’ with a twist back in 1998, using Hewlett’s designs and Albarn’s music, who would have thought that 17 years later, they would have pieced together a remarkable creation that has left a hugely iconic stamp on the music industry.
The band Gorillaz consist of four animated characters, which Albarn has admitted has been hugely time consuming and expensive to make and keep running, spending more money on the stage performance, technology, animations, illusions and preparation for the tours than they actually make from records and shows, it is certain that this is and has been a project that has had passion and belief behind it from the get go.
With regards to the latest album from Gorillaz, Humanz certainly doesn’t leave any room for disappointment and is most definitely a creative masterpiece filled with crazy ideas and love, focusing on topics of racism, mental illness, global warming fabrication and the importance of soul music to highlight a few.
Looking at the line up of artists present on this album was an instant clue that this was going to be a genius creation, with features from artists like Pusha T, Vince Staples, Popcaan, De La Soul and Grace Jones, not to mention the supporting of new British talents Rag’n’Bone Man and Ray BLK – there is certainly a sense of an ambitious attitude, with the album being 26 tracks long, focusing on two main ideas.
The first idea being that every track is focused around three aspects, ‘pain, joy and urgency’, and the second idea based on the idea of ‘imagining the world on the night that Donald Trump wins the election and how would people feel’.
Every aspect of this project and narrative is a thorough thought process, with messages pouring out of every crevice using talented collaborations and artistry throughout, making it feel like a playlist with each song acting as its own self contained genre and story.
Opening the album is track “Ascension“, featuring slick vocals from Californian rapper Vince Staples and focusing on topics of racism and the state of the world, suggesting that it is time that we should ascent into the next existence.
Throwing you straight into the album head first, you are hit with bold lyrics “you are now tuned into the tomb of Jehova, play my tunes loud enough to shake the room, what’s the hold up?” Alongside scattered rhythms, playful computer game like samples and the random snippets of ghostly vocals from Albarn, this really is a brilliantly fast paced opening track, which almost pumps you up and gets you ready for the rest of the album.
“Saturnz Barz” features Jamaican artist and leader of crew Unruly Gang, Popcaan, who offers a completely different sound, really indicating the diversity that this album promised and throwing the group into fairly untouched areas of trap.
This is certainly a record that you would expect to see perhaps more on Demon Days but in a strange way, it breaks up the album and adds difference with the song having a gangster style back alley swag to it, with Popcaan’s strong Jamaican accent being so robotically tuned and the melody being quite dark.
Track “The Apprentice” is definitely one of the better and more addictive tracks off of this guest-packed album, offering a unique sound to the usual Gorillaz style. It offers a sharing of soulful vocals from Rag’n’Bone Man and Ray BLK.
Smooth and funky bass lines and dripping water sound effects are accompanied by cool grooves and R&B vibes from New York rapper Zebra Katz, not to mention the ghost like whisper of Albarn’s voice every now and then. The awesome switch toward the end of the song makes it transfer from a smooth groove to an almost dark corner with Zebra Katz’s vocals giving it that thriller feel.
As ever, the creativity of Damon Albarn projects through every track on this record and drags us into another dimension that is slightly strange and trippy, incorporating bags full of talent from all over the music scene to make the unique and very clever Humanz.
Out now on Parlophone Records/Warner Music, purchase Gorillaz Humanz on iTunes here.
Words by Mia Woloszczynska