REVIEW: Gorillaz: Humanz

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Donovan Brooks, Staff Writer

         The newest album of Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz has had mixed reception since its release two weeks ago. Despite being anticipated for sixteen years,
Humanz fell on the disappointed ears of fans, semi-clouded by nostalgia. Fans have claimed that the album didn’t sound like the Gorillaz they knew. It wasn’t “their sound”. So, nostalgic ties aside, how good is the album, really?

          Admittedly, Humanz, to someone used to hearing 2-D’s (Damon Albarn’s) voice, may be a little shocking. Every song on the album, aside from Busted and Blue, is dominated by a featured artist. This is most comparable to Doncamatic, a song on Plastic Beach in which artist Daley sings for the entire song while  2-D’s voice appears at brief moments during the chorus. Humanz is as if Damon took Doncamatic, and played it for an entire 19-track album. In fact, 2-D doesn’t even appear on about half of the tracks. These artists, however, are not unwelcome, upon listening to each song a couple of times. They are extremely skilled vocalists, and their voices do actually go much better with the new musical style on the album than 2-D’s would.

         This brings us to the next point. The Gorillaz have always been genre-less, drawing inspiration from at least three different genres at a time, at any given time. The albums, however, do tend to follow a certain style. This is different for every album. Humanz has differentiated the most from the norm. It draws heavy influences from techno, and its sub-genres, such as trip hop. These are sounds that the Gorillaz have never been heard using before, more or less. Hence, the fans say that it’s “not their sound”. While they are invalid in assuming that the Gorillaz had a sound to begin with, they are right in that this album deviated from their normal music a lot. They have done this kind of deviation before, most notably on the song Murdoc is God, on the semi-obscure album D-Sides. However, they usually stuck to one song per album for this kind of radical outlier. No one expected them to do it for an entire album.

          The new influences this album draws on contributes to its tone, though. Humanz is very high-brow art. Each song has its own message, and contributes to the main, overall message of the entire album. About this message, Albarn said,

          “[Humanz] is a journey through that night, post-whatever that was. That news. When you go out that night, how do you feel? This record was anticipating that night but trying to make a party out of it.”

          Thus, Albarn’s high-art “end of the world party” idea is accompanied by an equally high-art sounding album. Each track is meant to make you think, to make you feel something. This artistry culminates in the song Hallelujah Money, which is written in a way that makes it sound like slam poetry. The way that Benjamin Clementine lifts up his tone at all the moments you don’t expect him to makes the lyrics sound more raw and from the heart. This song is known for its political themes, as it was released just before Donald Trump’s inauguration. However, political themes echo throughout the album, especially in Vince Staples’ lyrics for the song, Ascension, and the lyrics in the song, Let Me Out.

          From track to track, the album can sound extremely different. Two tracks can have entirely different tones, contributing more to Albarn’s theme of different reactions to the end of the world. Despite this, Humanz is structured in a way such that every track flawlessly leads into the next. Other artists do this occasionally, but it doesn’t feel like anything other than a trick that they do. Here, it’s substantial. Listening to the album all the way through is truly an experience. And, for once, it’s not ruined by the interludes. The album has about seven interludes, all of which are actually charming and meaningful, and help to transition between two tracks. The same cannot be said for countless other artists, who add interludes, thinking that they are being artsy, when they really just detract from the listening experience. The interludes on Humanz are kept short and simple. An exemplar of this is The Non-Conformist Oath, in which a crowd of people repeats the lines, “I promise to be different. I promise to be unique. I promise not to repeat things other people say.” A sample of the bassline for Submission then plays, flawlessly transitioning into the track.
          Now, this all boils down to the question, “Should I buy it?” If you can appreciate this high-brow style, go ahead and buy the album. The deluxe edition is worth buying, if only for the one track The Apprentice. This is (arguably) the strongest track on the album. Out of Body is also very strong, included in the deluxe edition. They are, however, accompanied by the weakest track, Circle of Friendz. If you aren’t into all that high-art stuff, just buy these: Ascension, Strobelite, Saturnz Barz, Momentz, Andromeda, Let Me Out, We Got the Power, and The Apprentice. However, I highly recommend you buy the whole thing, as the songs may grow on you. It is still the Gorillaz, after all.