Gorillaz, the virtual band spearheaded by musician Damon Albarn and animator Jamie Hewlett, is back after six years in limbo. And unfortunately, it sounds like the time off has taken its toll on them. Gorillaz’ formula—mix electropop and hip-hop until evenly distributed, throw in a bunch of trite dystopian observations, invite some guests du jour to help with the festivities—has been one they’ve stuck to since their debut; to say that it hasn’t really aged means that it hasn’t gotten old, but it just as well implies that Humanz doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Kind of an underwhelming album, with some songs that come across as failed experiments, unsatisfying collaborations, outright duds, and six goddamned interludes—but it’s not without some solid tracks.|
FCCs: 2, 5
Favorites: 3, 7, 10, 14
1) “Intro: I Switched My Robot Off” (0:24) – Introduction. No sense playing this on air.
2) “Ascension” (2:36) – FCC “a**,” “n****,” “s***,” “b****,” “f***ing.” Featuring Vince Staples. Fast-paced shuffle of a hip-hop song. Good verses and urgent delivery offset by a kind of dumb chorus. Unfortunately, there’s way too many bad words to play on air.
3) “Strobelite” (4:33)* – Featuring Peven Everett. Soulful vocals over a really cool, swaggering beat. Handclaps throughout song, female backing vocals on chorus.
4) “Saturnz Barz” (3:02) – Featuring Popcaan. Popcaan’s heavy accent makes his lyrics really difficult to make out. He sounds subdued, as does the track, which sounds glittery but gray. In other words, it’s a classic Gorillaz sound, classic Albarn.
5) “Momentz” (3:17) – FCC “f***.” Featuring De La Soul. A quick and thudding four-on-the-floor beat that cramps out the rappers. Gorillaz and De La Soul have done better, at least twice over; it’s just a generic-sounding song. The FCC violation appears about one minute into the song, but it sounds like it’s been edited out. You be the judge.
6) “Interlude: The Non-Conformist Oath” (0:22) – Interlude. Samples an old Steve Martin comedy skit. Still not worth playing on air.
7) “Submission” (3:22)* – Featuring Danny Brown & Kelela. Kelela and Brown complement each other well. Kelela sings over a glitchy, electronic instrumental, and she’s pretty fantastic. Brown comes in shortly after two minutes into the track with a solid verse that sounds a bit predictable by his standards, but you can’t take your ears off the guy when he goes in.
8) “Charger” (3:34) – Featuring Grace Jones. There’s a propulsive, rubbery guitar riff that repeats throughout the song, and while it’s catchy, it doesn’t go anywhere. Albarn’s verses are strained and inert, and Jones is underutilized. Which is a shame, because that riff really sticks in your mind.
9) “Interlude: Elevator Going Up” (0:05) – Interlude. Waste of five seconds.
10) “Andromeda” (3:18)* – Featuring D.R.A.M. Another song that hardly makes use of its guest. However, this song is glossy and brisk, chugging right along. Clubby and catchy.
11) “Busted and Blue” (4:37) – Another classic Albarn song—pensive and subdued. I’d imagine this would be what his next solo album would sound like, if he ever does one. While it’s a very pretty-sounding song, it can be a bit of a drag, but it’s still one of the better tracks on the album.
12) “Interlude: Talk Radio” (0:20) – Interlude. Really meta, Gorillaz. Really meta.
13) “Carnival” (2:16) – Featuring Anthony Hamilton. Skittering percussion with strings. Vocals are kind of delicate, kind of ghostly. Wish the song was more exciting.
14) “Let Me Out” (2:56)* – Featuring Mavis Staples & Pusha T. Haunting instrumental, with Pusha T delivering an urgent pair of verses about political turmoil. Staples props Pusha T up with her cracked, soulful vocals. A late-album highlight, even if it could’ve been something more.
15) “Interlude: Penthouse” (0:12) – Interlude. Another goddamned interlude.
16) “Sex Murder Party” (4:19) – Featuring Jamie Principle & Zebra Katz. A pretty insipid concept for a song, made worse by the fact that it’s a very generic, uninteresting track. The guests are poorly used and bring nothing to the track. The song just plods along for four minutes.
17) “She’s My Collar” (3:30) – Featuring Kali Uchis. Handclap-driven beat pumps the song along. Spooky-sounding instrumental, pretty catchy. Not a bad song at all.
18) “Interlude: The Elephant” (0:12) – Interlude. Gettin’ real tired of your interludes, Gorillaz.
19) “Hallelujah Money” (4:23) – Featuring Benjamin Clementine. Clementine’s vocals are sinister and soulful, singing haunted poetry about love of money and love of power. Instrumental is subdued and industrial, but doesn’t rise above a simmer. One of the longer tracks on the album, even though it doesn’t feel that way.
20) “We Got the Power” (2:20) – Featuring Jehnny Beth. After “Hallelujah Money”—and the entire album, really—this song sounds so tonally at odds with everything that came before it that it undermines the album’s entire message. Even if taken on its own, it’s a contrived, heinously cheesy ditty. It just might be the worst track on the album.