Gorillaz: Humanz

21 April 2017 Music

Gorillaz: Humanz

Gorillaz began as a place for Damon Albarn to hide. The cartoons by Jamie Hewlett served as the face so Albarn didn’t have to, so he could step away from the limelight shone on Blur. At the time it seemed like a futuristic move. Sure, Alvin and the Chipmunks did the cartoon band thing in 1958, but Gorillaz’ self-titled debut wasn’t an album of novelty songs. It was sci-fi, conceptual. It crossed musical genres but remained coherent.

On subsequent albums the Gorillaz project changed. Guest artists became more prominent, and Humanz has the most of all. There are plenty of famous names – De La Soul return and, like their previous Gorillaz spots, it’s a career highlight; Grace Jones, Mavis Staples and house music trailblazer Jamie Principle also appear.

There’s also a pack of newer artists, mostly hip-hop and R’n’B acts. Vince Staples storms all over ‘Ascension’ and Jehnny Beth from Savages turns ‘We Got the Power’ into one of her band’s positivity punk anthems. It’s 10 tracks in before Albarn becomes a notable vocal presence on his own album (though the bleeping, thumpy beats and occasional burst of gospel are very him), and when his voice does come through it’s mostly the detached singing that dominated his solo project Everyday Robots. He’s always sounded a bit distant as animated 2D, but now he’s barely here.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It keeps the emphasis on the guests, the older artists potentially gaining fans from being put in front of a younger audience and the new names picking up listeners beyond the reach of music blogs. Expect more videos where the Gorillaz are menaced by weird creatures that sound like featured singers.

None of Albarn’s other post-Blur projects have been as popular as Gorillaz, and even the last Blur album was one for the fans. If he wants to reach people this is his outlet now, so it’s fascinating how willing he is to reduce himself to cameos. He’s present in the music of course, but some of his singing contributions sound like the Shaun Ryder bit in ‘Dare’, though he does come around for ‘We Got the Power’ where he is suddenly energised. Albarn used to hide behind the cartoons, now he hides behind other people. The result is a really solid hip-hop and R’n’B mixtape that happens to be curated and co-produced by that guy from Blur.

by Jody Macgregor (@jodymacgregor)
» Humanz is released on 28 April.

This review first appeared in Ed#535 of The Big Issue. For more reviews of the latest music, books, films and TV shows, grab a copy from your vendor today!

Jody Macgregor