What does the band do while all these guests are singing on the mic?Warner Bros., 2017
6.5 / 10
I never saw Gorillaz lasting as a thing after the 2001 eponymous debut. I guess it was sort of a creative idea from Damon Albarn. However, would anyone actually ever take the project seriously? Turns out that many did, and each subsequent album from Gorillaz (Humanz marks five) has seen several big guest collaborators join the fictional band. Er…Damon Albarn. Humanz stacks up the guests once again; making it feel like a Drake “mixtape” rather than a Gorillaz album. I mean, what are the fictional band members doing the entire time when someone else controls the mic? Are they just playing the music in the background? These are the questions I have after hearing Humanz.
But what about the songs? Like any Gorillaz album, there are some catchy ones. And with 20 songs (26 if you get the Deluxe version), there is plenty of filler. Mostly Humanz songs straddle a line between dance pop and hip hop. Aside from Drake’s More Life, this album has a lot in common with last year’s album from The Avalanches. However, the beauty of that album is in its construction. All the songs of Wildflower weave together as one piece. On Humanz, the songs are truly separate; though, they often share similar themes. No surprise that the album is somewhat political; though, Albarn chooses to scrub names like Trump and Obama from the songs.
But how much stock would you put behind political statements coming from Gorillaz? Even if we’re all able to look underneath its cartoon disguise, IT’S STILL A CARTOON BAND! The music should be fun, not shift your political views in any way. Read a book and do research for that. Listen to Gorillaz for goofy fun. Thankfully, some of that exists on Humanz. De La Soul has another strong appearance on “Momentz” where he teams up with 2D. The song’s beat mimics a slinky climbing down the stairs. De La Soul delivers a stellar hook. “Clocks on the wall/ Talk to watches on the wrist/ It’s the moments we relive/ It’s the moments like this.” Yep, it’s one of Humanz better momentz.
Grace Jones shows up; though, almost in samples on “Charger”. She lends a spookiness to the song’s whirring panic as she sings lines like, “I am the ghost/ I am the sword.” Now, I can’t stop thinking about Conan the Destroyer. One cool thing that Humanz does is bring together legendary singer Mavis Staples and Pusha T on “Let Me Out”. Both pair extremely well together, and 2D makes a brief appearance here as well. “Sex Murder Party” works simply for its eccentricity. “Dissolve the kids/ Into tears of your priority,” sings Albarn.
Even with its good songs, Humanz still feels like a disappointment. Not a failure, but not Gorillaz’s best work. Look, I understand that it’s a fictional band, so I shouldn’t expect much. But Albarn gravitates toward this project as if it’s more important than Blur or even his solo career. Anyone remember Everyday Robots? The point is that Albarn knows how to do music very well. Gorillaz has shown that he’s great at picking up interesting guests and doing things with them. Here, he could have done better things with them.