Written by Andrew Howie
Few artists reach the level of the Gorillaz: worldwide fame, a string of successful albums, legions of fans, etc. Fewer still are virtual musicians. But the brains behind Gorillaz, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, brought their characters (Murdoc on bass, 2D on vocals, Russel Hobbs on drums, and Noodle on guitar) back to the music scene with a thunderous kaboom, performing their newest album, Humanz, in its entirety before undertaking a world tour.
The first thing I noticed about Humanz was that while it is very clearly a Gorillaz record, it is simultaneously different from anything I’ve heard them do. It seems to jump back and forth between manic club energy (the pounding, anthemic “Charger”), meditative, paralyzing dream pop (the excellent “Busted and Blue”), trance-laden movie intro music, and experimental hip hop, all wrapped up in the distinctive trademark of the Gorillaz.
Musically, the album seems to be building towards something the more you listen. There is a great deal more tension-release on Humanz compared to albums like Plastic Beach. It’s a much more atmospheric record, as melodies tend to melt and slink away, making room for new sounds and textures that challenge the ear.
In terms of subject matter, it’s a much more intimate and personal album. The lyrics are almost stream-of-consciousness, and with the darker musical tone, the album is almost ominous. Previous Gorillaz albums have addressed issues facing the planet, but Humanz seems to have a different message, one that aims more at the individual than the species. As the album drifts towards its conclusion, it takes on an almost nebulous, shapeshifting tone, much like a human being as we become more of our own selves. There is also a clear message of being active and stepping up to do your part. Without getting into anything specific, the album starts to yearn for change.
All told, Humanz is something else. It’s totally different from anything the Gorillaz have done so far, but it is most definitely a Gorillaz record. That weird, bouncy skronk is there, there are guest artists a-plenty, and it’s full of brooding, electric ennui. It might take a listen or two until it gets under your skin, but I have the feeling that once these songs get the live treatment once or twice more, they are really going to take off. Give it a listen, maybe on a rainy day when you’ve got some time uninterrupted? However you hear it, happy listening!