Music reiview: “Humanz” by Gorillaz

Gorillaz+performs+in+April+2010.
Gorillaz performs in April 2010.

Gorillaz performs in April 2010.

Wonker, flickr.com

Wonker, flickr.com

Gorillaz performs in April 2010.

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After some speculation and doubt over a new project, Gorillaz surprised the music world with its new colorful, if somewhat disappointing release.

Gorillaz is a contemporary, “virtual” band headed by the lead singer of Blur, Damon Albarn. The band is most known for its unique aesthetics, created by comic book artist Jamie Hewlett. Its music videos and promotional work feature very cartoon-y artwork depicting an imaginary band made up of four outlandish members. Gorillaz made a name for itself the early 2000s with its debut self-titled album “Gorillaz” and “Demon Dayz.” These albums feature some of Gorillaz’ biggest singles, such as “19-2000” and “Feel Good Inc.” The next major album from Gorillaz wouldn’t come until their 2010 release, “Plastic Beach,” which didn’t make quite the same impact as its previous albums, but still had its fair share of fan-favorite songs. However, after “Plastic Beach,” there arose some doubt about whether or not a new album would be coming from Gorillaz, because of Albarn’s endeavors with his solo career and Blur.

Around the beginning of 2017, Gorillaz began releasing various, elaborate promo art on its social media. These promo pieces not only built up excitement for the new album, but also gave insight into the background of the cartoon band’s members.

The second major wave of promotion for this album would come in the release of four singles from the album, “Ascension,” “Saturn Barz,” “Andromeda,” and “We Got the Power.” These singles received some very mixed impressions, and built speculation as to whether this album would hold up to the expectation of quality made by previous records.

“Humanz” was released on April 28, with a tracklist of 20 songs (26 for the “Deluxe Edition”). One of the most noticeable things about this tracklist is how many of the tracks consist of very short “interludes” that are meant to build upon the overarching concept of the album. “Humanz” tells the story of an “end-of-world party” that is taking place because of a catastrophic event in the Gorillaz’ universe. Damon Albarn has said that this end-of-the-world event is supposed to representative of Donald Trump’s election, along with other recents events such as Brexit and various outbursts of racial discrimination in the world. Despite this, Albarn made it a point to remove any mention of Trump from the record:

“I don’t want to give the most famous man on earth any more fame, particularly,” Albarn said in a March interview on Beats Radio. “He doesn’t need it!”

However, “Humanz” still contains several mentions of the current American political climate throughout the album, particularly on tracks like “Ascension,” “Let Me Out,” and “Hallelujah Money.”

Another very noticeable characteristic of “Humanz” is its abundance of guest features. With the exception of the interludes and the somber track “Busted and Blue,” every song on this album features at least one featured artist. However, these features tend to limit the potential of the album in several spots. It isn’t uncommon on this record for the featured artist to lower the overall quality of the track that they are on because of either a poor performance or a clash of style between them and the instrumental, such as on “Sex Murder Party” and “Hallelujah Money.” Another problem that is littered throughout the album is the over/under-use of these features. Several songs on “Humanz” tend to give the featured artists far more vocal air-time than Albarn, causing Albarn to often sound like a feature on his own songs. This is very prevalent on tracks like “Ascension,” “Submission,” and “Carnival,” where Albarn can actually be rather difficult to spot. This problem happens in the reverse as well, as some features aren’t prevalent much at all on some songs, much like D.R.A.M. on “Andromeda,” as he pops up maybe once or twice for brief moments on this track.

Something long-time fans of Gorillaz may notice on this album is its heavy reliance on more synth-heavy sounds and electronic drums. While these elements were definitely prevalent on previous records, they were also frequently broken-up by either live instruments or at the very least samples of them. With the possible exception of the distorted, wild guitars on “Charger,” “Humanz” basically uses synths and drum machines from front to back. This doesn’t necessarily take away from the quality of the album, but it definitely gives it a feel that fans won’t be expecting or really be used to.

For the general sound of the album, Gorillaz delivers some very cartoony, colorful, and somewhat wacky soundscapes. Whether it’s the vivid synths, rhythmic drums, or strange samples found throughout the album, Albarn keeps up the unique style Gorillaz has become known for. However, this style doesn’t translate well to every track on the album, as sometimes the strange sounds Albarn uses can deter from the overall musicality of the songs. This is most prominent on the tracks “Hallelujah Money,” “Momentz,” and “Halfway to the Halfway House.” On “Hallelujah Money,” there is an astounding amount of clashing that occurs between Benjamin Clementine’s vocals and the bizarre synth passages and sound effects in the instrumental. This is essentially the same problem that occurs on “Halfway to the Halfway House,” except that the instrumental begins to clash with itself before the vocals are even taken into account, because of the unpleasant ascending and descending synths that play throughout the entire song. “Momentz,” however, has a pretty strong instrumental that is somewhat tarnished by the overpowering bass drum/snare that doesn’t fit into the rest of the song much at all.

“Humanz” comes by with some very strong musical ideas, but fails to live up to many of them. “Humanz” by Gorillaz gets a:

 

6.5/10!

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