The fifth studio album released by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett‘s virtual prodigies Gorillaz, Humanz is a darkly satirical, out-of-control collection of electric tunes that jostle all over the place in their battle to win over your attention, just as their guest features constantly show up to the party before disappearing just as suddenly as they arrived at the rotating door of this haunting sonic landscape. It’s messy, it’s disorganized, and it shouldn’t work, but beneath the constant affront to the senses, there’s a kind of dark beauty that you can’t help but fall in love with.
Produced in part to be a twisted parody depicting the kind of upside-down world that Albarn predicted humanity would fall into were Trump to win the 2016 US Presidential Election, by the time Humanz was released in April, it had already turned into a bewildering satire. From terrifically frantic opener ‘Ascension’ (in which Vince Staples cries “Heard the world is ending soon, I assumed that they told ya” as we are introduced to Albarn’s apocalyptic vision) to the pounding earthquake of a bassline that threatens to split your eardrums in ‘Charger’ and the endorphin machine that is ‘Carnival’, there’s little respite from the constant sound, and it works. The real talent of Gorillaz is their understanding of the music they craft; only Albarn and his synths could make the dancehall of Popcaan in ‘Saturnz Barz’ sit comfortably alongside the electric R&B of Kelela (‘Submission’) and the soulful vocals of Rag’N’Bone Man and Ray BLK (‘The Apprentice’). But more than that, in Humanz, Gorillaz have blended that kaleidoscope of genres (along with their own electric, synthy goodness) to perfection, with Albarn’s anarchistic, chaotic vision implanting itself firmly in your mind as the result.
When the music Gorillaz produces comes off, you should forget that Albarn and Hewlett even exist and instead be dragged into whatever soundscape the virtual band have crafted for you. Humanz is an album that works: by the time you get to sublime stand-out ‘Busted and Blue’ at the halfway mark, their nightmare vision has enveloped you completely, if you’ve let it. Sure, Humanz works as a political statement – Benjamin Clemantine crucifies Trump and his supporters for their obsession in building “Walls like unicorns” in ‘Hallelujah Money’ – but at its heart, our pick for 10th best album of the year is less a personal warning against Trump than a global warning against the horror that can be borne out of humanity itself. But above all that, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable hour or so of music featuring ominous cautionary tales (‘Let Me Out’, ‘Sex Murder Party’) alongside brighter, more upbeat bangers (‘Andromeda’, ‘We Got The Power’) that should not be missed.
Humanz was released on April 28th via Parlophone