Gorillaz – Humanz review

More isn’t always bet­ter. That’s some­thing you could read­i­ly dis­agree with when faced with the ever-chang­ing ros­ter of guests who have joined the world-con­quer­ing vir­tu­al band Goril­laz. But upon see­ing the guest list for Humanz – the band’s first prop­er album in sev­en years – its nat­ur­al lit­tle con­cerned that flesh-and-blood band leader, Damon Albarn, might just have over­done it this time. Humanz is noth­ing if not bold in con­cept and exe­cu­tion. But, unfor­tu­nate­ly, it lacks the sub­tle alche­my that made the band’s last three stu­dio albums so spectacular.

Humanz is billed as a par­ty record for a world gone nutz. It brings togeth­er an out­landish mix­ture of house music vet­er­ans (Peven Everett, Jamie Prin­ci­ple), rap­pers (Vince Sta­ples, Dan­ny Brown), new-age R&B stars (Kali Uchis, Kelela), rock lead­ers (Noel Gal­lagher, Jehn­ny Beth), and music leg­ends (Grace Jones, Car­ly Simon), among others.

In inter­views, Albarn spoke about being great­ly inspired by Earth, Wind & Fire, and the hum­ble syn­the­sis­er had played with as a child. It is from this place that Humanz most imme­di­ate excite­ment springs from. ‘Stro­belite’ is a glo­ri­ous com­bi­na­tion of ear­ly 80s synth and head-bob­bing hand caps, topped off by enchant­i­ng vocals from Peven Everett. ‘Androm­e­da’, which fea­tures US rap­per-singer DRAM, is a dance track infused with oth­er­world­ly qual­i­ties. ‘Sat­urnz Barz’ is a left-field, dark-night-of-the-soul type track that with unex­pect­ed, sober­ing hon­esty from reg­gae artist Pop­caan.

High­lights such as these are dot­ted through­out this gar­gan­tu­an album. The trou­ble is it’s hard to shake the feel­ing that, on a lengthy project, some tracks were best left out (saved for a fan-pleas­ing B‑sides col­lec­tion), and those that remain blend­ed togeth­er with more care by Albarn and his co-pro­duc­ers, The Twilite Tone and Remi Kaba­ka. ‘Momentz (feat. De La Soul)’, though inven­tive, is a chal­lenge for even the most die-hard fan. ‘Car­ni­val’ and ‘Sex Mur­der Par­ty’ aren’t as imag­i­na­tive as they sound. And, com­pared to Goril­laz pre­vi­ous work, album clos­er (on the stan­dard edi­tion), ‘We Got the Pow­er (feat. Jehn­ny Beth)’, is all too brisk.

This con­coc­tion makes Humanz a dif­fi­cult album to fall in love with to the mag­ni­tude of Demon Days or Plas­tic Beach. What­ev­er you think of those albums, they each have a glo­ri­ous arc to them. Humanz, on the oth­er hand, is an album stuffed to burst­ing with ideas and sounds that cap­ti­vate (‘Ascen­sion (feat. Vince Stapes)’, ‘Let Me Out (feat. Mavis Sta­ples & Pusha T)’, ‘Sub­mis­sion (feat. Dan­ny Brown & Kelela)’, ‘Bust­ed and Blue’) – espe­cial­ly when the deluxe edi­tion is tak­en into account, with Ray Blk, Kilo Kish and Zebra Katz all offer­ing deal-mak­ing guest con­tri­bu­tions. Yet, even though this par­ty has many high­lights, it stops short of unforgettable.

Goril­laz has always been a vehi­cle for Albarn, and co-cre­ator and artist Jamie Hewlett, to push the enve­lope, and intro­duce music that wouldn’t nor­mal­ly stand half a chance when offered to main­stream audi­ences. Albarn hasn’t exer­cised the expert focus he has done with his pre­vi­ous off-the-wall ideas. Still, even with its warts, Goril­laz’ lat­est incar­cer­a­tion is an ener­getic, provoca­tive, foot-stomp­ing alter­na­tive pop celebration.


Humanz is out now on Par­lophone Records.

If you like this artist, check out: Janelle Monáe; Bro­ken Bells

Image: Jamie Hewlett