Sunday, January 24, 2021

‘Humanz’ exceeds expectations

“Humanz”, the fifth studio album from British band Gorillaz is an expansive blend of scattered ideas over an equally wide array of genres. After “The Fall” , released seven years ago, the virtual band created by illustrator Jamie Hewlett and Blur’s Damon Albarn had grown more popular than expected. Fan’s anticipations had risen so skyhigh, they begun to eclipse Albarn’s solo album “Everyday Robots”, and Blur’s first album in 12 years, 2015’s “The Magical Whip”.

This fever pitch can partially be explained by the growing toxicity in politics as of late, and the element of social commentary linked to the Gorillaz’s history. “Humanz” does not disappoint in its biting analysis of the current political landscape with doomsday predictions inserted but no direct mention of President Donald Trump.

“The sky is falling baby” warns an ominous Vince Staples on album-opener “Ascension.” Rapper Pusha T and gospel-legend Mavis Staple both show up on “Let Me Out” to reiterate: “Obama is gone, who is left to save us … I’m praying for my neighbors.”

But the most outright political mic drop from the band happened in January. One day before the Inauguration of the 45th president, Gorillaz unleashed their first bit of music in six years, the polarizing “Hallelujah Money.” English artist Benjamin Clementine sings menacingly about from the point-of-view of a money-obsessed ethnocentric.

Excluding these pivotal songs, “Humanz” succeeds based on listener’s tolerance to hearing guest artist pairing with Gorillaz. With a rotating list of talents — including Grace Jones, De La Soul, D.R.A.M., Danny Brown and Anthony Hamilton — sometimes differentiating who is performing can become muddled. Standouts include “Andromeda”, starring D.R.A.M. and “Saturn Barz” featuring Popcaan. “Submission” mashes Detroit rapper Danny Brown and R&B aloof Kelela with a clanking lighthearted synth production.

The two-dimensional rock band is capable of conjuring up infinite emotions from their guest except the two audiences might expect from an album called Humanz. There isn’t a “love song” on this 20-song behemoth. No matter the speed of each dance the atmosphere of each song boils down to cold dislocation. “Busted and Blue”, the only song where the only voice is Albarn’s, serves as this manifesto. “I am your satellite, and I can’t get back without you.”

Closer “We Got the Power” pulls no punches as it attempts to uplift, bringing in Oasis’ Noel Gallagher and Savages’ Jehnny Beth, but tacking it onto the end may have been a misstep. For all of “Humanz”’s rebellion against the political machine, the key message is not normalizing but raging louder and protesting vibrantly.

Email Taylor Richardson at cp@cardinalpointsonline.com

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