Album Review: Gorillaz - Humanz

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​Gorillaz have always been one to break barriers.  The most well-known virtual band, comprised of four characters, collaborate with several truly amazing artists to create Humanz, the Gorillaz fifth studio album.  The Gorillaz are made up by 2-D (vocals, keyboard), Murdock Niccals (bass guitar), Noodle (guitar, keyboard), and Russel Hobbs (percussion), and they are the brain child of Damon Albarn.  Albarn, along with the other artists featured on this album, banded together to give us this musical masterpiece, a tale of what it means to be human and questioning the boundaries of humanity, something a virtual band could only really get a handle on.

Humanz begins with the introduction “I Switched My Robot Off”, an eerie voice speaking over the sounds of a spacecraft preparing for launch.  The voice speaks of switching their robot off and knowing more, but retaining less as a result. 

The words lead to an even more eerie feeling, then the voice of California rapper Vince Staples takes over as “Ascension” begins.  “Ascension” has a similar sound to “Dare” from the Gorillaz earlier album Demon Days, with a techno/pop/bounce mixture.  Although on first listen, it may sound superficial, if you pay attention to the lyrics, the song deals with heavy issues such as racism and war that are plaguing Western civilization.

The third track on the album begins, and immediately the striking difference between the former track is noticeable.  “Strobelite” has a Daft Punk vibe with an almost John Legend voice over it, thanks to Indiana singer Peven Everett.  One particular line in the song “Slide the light off you/You may find some peace” is revisited later in the album. As the song fades, the Gorillaz choir in the background appears to become more and more eerie the longer they repeat “you’re livin’ the strobe light”.

“Saturnz Barz” kicks off with a heavy bass line, drawing the listener in immediately.  Popcaan’s unique voice is smooth over the beat during the first verse, whereas for the chorus, 2D comes in with his more raspy tone, providing a nice balance for the chill song.
The fifth song from the album “Momentz” begins with arcade-like sounds, fading into silence where a voice comes out of nowhere.  As the song truly starts, it may sound slightly reminiscent of a previous hit of the Gorillaz, “Feel Good Inc.”  No, you’re not going crazy.  That’s because De La Soul was the featured rapper on that single as well as this one.  It’s obvious that De La Soul and the Gorillaz were meant to play together, considering how catchy this tune is.

The sixth track off the album isn’t truly a song; “Interlude: The Non-conformist Oath” is just that- an interlude that contains the Non-conformist Oath.  This Oath speaks of being different and unique, all while those in the crowd repeat it.  The track ends on an ironic tone, with “I promise not to repeat things other people say” as the beat drops and the audience cheers.

The beat drop in the previous track is essentially what begins the seventh song, “Submission (feat. Danny Brown & Kelela)”.  Kelela’s R&B voice over the electro-pop melody with Gorillaz choir harmonizing is enticing.  That’s when Danny Brown hops in dropping bars like it’s nothing, providing one of the most interesting songs on the album.
“Charger” is by far a favorite of the album, with Grace Jones and 2-D vibing in the best way with a beautiful hand-off between the two.  Grace Jones begins the song, setting the haunting tone for an equally hauntingly beautiful song with a breathy, yet powerful, “I am the ghost”.  2-D then joins with a rhythmic melody singing below Jones’s “ghost”.    The repetitive but powerful guitar riffs with the pounding bass line are exactly what was needed to round the track out entirely.

The tenth track is pretty self-explanatory.  Entitled “Interlude: Elevator Going Up”, that is all the listener hears in the four seconds the track lasts.
“Andromeda” is one of the four singles released before the album was dropped, premiering on BBC Radio1.  This features D.R.A.M, a musician best known for his single “Broccoli”, but this collaboration is different than others on the album.  D.R.A.M. seems to take a backseat to 2-D, letting him have the spotlight in this song.  With a funky beat, this dance track is one that shouldn’t be skipped.

In a much different tone, “Busted and Blue” begins very somber, with slow chords playing and 2-D’s voice low and gravely.  This is the only song on the record that does not include a feature by any other artist, and it deals with 2-D coming to terms with just how much technology truly rules over us as a species, as Humanz.

“Interlude: Talk Radio” gives the listener one-side of a conversation, not allowing us to hear the other side.  We do not know who they are talking to, nor do we know what they are referencing.  This track remains a mystery and can be a bit frightening if pondered too hard.

Gospel sounds from Anthony Hamilton’s powerful voice over a heavy bass is what “Carnival” is serving.  The repetition, as well as the sing back, is reminiscent of a church song, juxtaposed with lyrics speaking of a one night stand.  This wonderful contradiction in the music is mimicking that in the lyrical content. 

The fifteenth track on the album “Let Me Out (feat. Mavis Staples & Pusha T)” is somewhat reminiscent of Beyonce’ and Kendrick Lamar’s “Freedom” both in its musical style and lyrical content.  “Let Me Out” speaks of the tension felt in Trump’s America, calling the man out specifically by name.  While the music is beautiful, the repeating background line “Let me out” makes it impossible for listeners to truly become comfortable with the song.
The fourth interlude of the album, “Penthouse” gives ear to someone in an elevator rising to presumably the penthouse, the top of the building.  The crowd’s cheers become louder until the elevator bell rings, and we hear, “Something was gonna happen tonight”.

This leads into “Sex Murder Party (feat. Jamie Principle & Zebra Katz)”, another jam with a Daft Punk vibe.  Although the music is upbeat and has a dance-worthy sound, the lyrics speak to something much darker.  Jamie Principle speaks of how he’s caught up in this lifestyle, “this murder”, and he cannot escape this “sex murder party”.  The song fades from the “sex murder party” to just “murder” repeated over and over until the next track begins.

“She’s My Collar” is a unique track in that it has a smoother tone over an electronic, upbeat sound.  This melody leads to 2-D singing of this girl who is his collar, his safe place, the thing that reels him back in.  Then Kali Uchis comes in with her beautiful melody, singing about the two coming together to paint a “green meadow”.  Although at first it may seem like a love song of sorts, “She’s My Collar” is really speaking of finding solace online, something many of us can relate to.

“Interlude: The Elephant” seems to be speaking of the Republican party in the United States.  The entirety of this track is “And out of the elephant’s trunk… Confetti” is all we listeners get.  The Republican mascot is the elephant, and the following track is deals heavily with political subjects.  Instead of water coming out of the elephant’s trunk, we get confetti, something that is plentiful, but rather annoying to clean up, something insincere.  Political commentary?  I believe so.

“Hallelujah Money” is such a banger from this album, not only in the lyrical content, but also musically.  Benjamin Clementine’s voice is whimsical, simply narrating the song that is meant to be a protest song, released the day before Trump’s inauguration.  The heavy bass, soft choir, and hip hop beat under Clementine’s vibrato is incomparable to any other song on this album.

Contrasting “Hallelujah Money” in such a large way, “We Got the Power” is an upbeat, positive anthem.  With its techno melody under Jehnny Beth’s powerful voice, this song is absolutely a battle cry.  The track is wrapped up perfectly with the lines “We got the power to be loving each other/No matter what happens, we’ve got the power to do that”.

From start to finish, Humanz really explores what it means to be human, speaking of living in a digital world, sex, money, racism, inequality, political uprising, and banding together through it all with love.  This album is a rollercoaster of emotion, from upbeat dance tracks like “Andromeda” to somber and pensive “Busted and Blue” to satirical “Hallelujah Money” with sporadic interludes between.   With one of the most powerful ending for an album to date, Humanz is a record that should not be skipped by anyone, no matter your typical preferred genre of music because there is a little something in it for everyone.

Written by Deanna Bourgeois

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