Gorillaz have always been ahead of their time in the technological of the music industry. From their virtual world and holographic performances (a la the 2006 Grammys) to their genre-less tracks that have transcended time, they have always been an anomaly. Being the most successful virtual band to ever do it, the anime-inspired cartoon members Murdoc, 2-D, Russel, and Noodle, have paved the way for the future. After the release of their heavily hip-hop and soul influenced album, Plastic Beach, they return with the new release of their fifth studio album, Humanz.
2017 is the year where we can go to our local Best Buy pick up an Oculus Rift or Playstation VR headset and be immersed in virtual worlds that even George Jetson would be jealous of. So, it would make sense that a virtual band would take advantage of being in the age of virtual technology and break the Internet with the release of their VR 360 video for their single “Saturn Barz.” which beat records as the most watched VR video in YouTube history. Although the visual releases for have been exciting, the time has come to see if the album as a whole is just as exciting. And at times, it can be, but at other times it can also be pretty confusing and overwhelming.
At twenty tracks Humanz is already a lot to take in, but it is also sonically all over the place. As a listener you are jolted from new artists to legendary artists, from hyperactive techno to soupy gospel to vintage disco. Where Plastic Beach jumped between genres, it still maintained a uniform sound throughout the album. Humanz starts off with the Vince Staples featuring song “Ascension” that trades Staples’ aggressive delivery with gospel choir samples for a pretty infectious sound that gets dizzying at times when there are one too many “bee boo boo bee bop” noises at Mr. Krabs’ would so eloquently put it.
My favorite moments on the album are the more rhythmic ones that still have the signature sounds that made me fall in love with Gorillaz in the first place. “Saturn Barz” sails with a woozy, spacey hip-hop soundscape. Popcaan‘s grim patois adds a perfect mood to the track and works perfectly with Damon Albarn’s haunting vocals. My number one track on the album is by far “Submission” which features the gorgeous vocals of songstress Kelela who sails on top of the acid dancehall instrumental. Right when you think the track is over Danny Brown comes through with his abrasive, yet catching flow and really brings you in.
Humanz is drowning in features, and although this is a great characteristic of Gorillaz’s albums, the features are usually surprising or stand out. Although some of the features are one for the history books, such as Grace Jones amazingly villainous appearance on “Charger” or Anthony Hamilton’s chilling appearance on “Carnival”, most of the features fade to gray and become forgotten.
Although Humanz may not be Gorillaz last album, it is safe to safe that 2017 is the closest we are going to get to the future Gorillaz created back in 1998, and I expected a little more from what should have been the quintessential Gorillaz album.