Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett bury the hatchet to deliver an apocalyptic soundtrack to 2017
Released 28th April via Parlophone
A lot has gone on in the past couple of years that has prompted many of us to ask ourselves “what has humanity come to?”.
We are living in a time of great uncertainty, where World War Three may or may not get initiated with President Trump dropping a nuke on top of Syria after a particularly disappointing round of golf at Mar-a-Lago.
It was uncertain as to whether we would be getting any more material from Gorillaz after the release of The Fall in 2010 and the subsequent alleged falling-out of the band’s co-creators, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett.
Apparently, though, the two seem to have resolved their differences and now we have Humanz, the playlist to accompany the end of the world.
Damon Albarn started work on a new Gorillaz album in 2014. Even though this was long before the car-crash-in-slow-motion that was last year’s American presidential election, Albarn set the tone for his album by asking contributing artists to picture a world which featured a President Trump.
At the time, this seemed nightmarish but purely fantastical and the perfect way to get his collaborators into the right frame of mind to create a hellish, post-apocalyptic setting for Humanz.
Unfortunately, Albarn’s dystopia became our reality. Because of this, a great deal of work went into cleansing the record of any references to Trump himself for fear of too much crossover between the virtual world of Gorillaz and the real one where the rest of us have to live.
The opening song, ‘Ascension’, features the refrain “The sky is fallin’, baby, drop that ass ‘fore it crash”. The theme for the album seems to be that the end of the world is here so we might as well party (but that doesn’t mean we’re not pissed off about it).
Vince Staples does a great job on ‘Ascension’, speaking about the powerful themes of racial struggle and police brutality. Then 2D chips in with a comment about armchair activism. It’s clear from this song and plenty of others from Humanz that Damon Albarn has kept his vocal contributions to a minimum for the most part, often sounding more like a featured artist than the band’s frontman.
In spite of the less-than-cheery lyrics, the beat is catchy and it’s quite easy to find yourself bopping up and down in your chair. This statement applies to many songs on this album, including ‘Submission’ and ‘Andromeda’.
To their credit, Gorillaz could never be accused of churning out a bland mix of songs that all sound the same. That being said, this does raise the question of whether this affects the coherence of the album as a whole.
‘Strobelite’ follows ‘Ascension’, bringing a much funkier feel and the smooth, soulful vocals of Peven Everett. This almost sounds like it could be at home on a Pharrell Williams album, but then ‘Saturnz Barz’ throws you into the arms of Jamaican dancehall singer Popcaan and the effect is a little disorientating. However, this is supposed to be the music of dystopia so a bit of chaotic energy is probably what they were going for (this might explain the somewhat unnecessary interlude tracks).
Two of the more poignant, stand-out songs from the album are ‘Let Me Out’ and ‘Busted and Blue’. ‘Let Me Out’ has a profound feel with Pusha T stating “tell me there’s a Heaven in the sky where there is peace, but until then I keep my piece in arm’s reach”.
‘Busted and Blue’ is a wistful moment in the narrative as 2D talks us through his existential crisis — a common theme on Humanz, which feels fitting because what’s more human than a good old existential crisis?
Something that the album has been criticised for is for not making the most of what should have been an impressive arsenal of vocal power. This is most apparent on ‘Charger’, where the few lines growled by superstar Grace Jones barely register.
‘Momentz’ sees the return of De La Soul, who have featured on Demon Days and Plastic Beach. Whilst the song itself is alright so long as you don’t mind industrial smashing noises and auto-tune, it’s something of a step down from ‘Feel Good Inc.’.
Overall, the album is engaging and likeable if not life-changing. There is a great deal of hopelessness and griping, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Upbeat and cheery, ‘We Got the Power’ is a nice way to end the album, reminding you that “we got the power to be loving each other, no matter what happens, we’ve got the power to do that”.
It’s an important thing to remember when social media and Fake News™ have got you down. The takeaway message is that humans can be bad but they can also be good, you just have to learn how to take it all in your stride.