- Though Gorillaz only exists, supposedly, in the minds of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, the band has often grappled with the real world. "911," featuring D-12 and Terry Hall, was written directly after 9/11. "Kids With Guns," from 2005's Demon Days, tackled teenage gang violence. But the world now seems as surreal as anything in Hewlett's comics, its most powerful figure an insane clown who would seem more at home in the pages of Tank Girl than in the White House.
Although Albarn deliberately excised specific references to him from Gorillaz's fifth album, Donald Trump hangs over Humanz. Sometimes the attacks are direct, as when Vince Staples spits about living the American dream "as long as you don't look like me" on "Ascension," or when Pusha T, on "Let Me Out," pleads: "tell me I won't die at the hands of the police." Other times the jabs are more satirical—it's not hard to work out who Benjamin Clementine is pretending to be when preaching about "building walls" on "Hallelujah Money."
If the album's themes are overwhelmingly American, so are the guests. They bring mixed results. Danny Brown's hyperactive flow is the perfect foil for Kelela's languid vocal on "Submission"'s electro pop. Anthony Hamilton fills Bobby Womack's shoes nicely on "Carnival," and Peven Everett's soulful voice makes "Strobelite"'s discofied bump slide along. On the other hand, the talents of Grace Jones and Jamie Principle are pretty much wasted, either barking nonsense or warbling pointlessly in the background of their tracks. De La Soul sound as confused as "Momentz"'s ill-advised hybrid of hip-hop and 4/4.
The lyrics on Humanz might be Gorillaz's darkest, but the album has lots of bright music. Albarn says he thought of it as a party mixtape, which translates on Humanz via dayglo synths, rubbery basslines and catchy hooks. Apart from "Saturnz Barz," which sounds like a cartoon version of Mezzanine-era Massive Attack, there's little hint of the dub influences of earlier albums. Albarn also seems more absent, his faint, wavering voice sounding lost in the "echo chambers" he sings about on "Busted And Blue," one of the few moments in which he takes the starring role.
Despite its lengthy cast list, Humanz misses a genuinely surprising guest appearance like Mark E Smith or Lou Reed on 2010's Plastic Beach. The closest you get is Noel Gallagher as a backing vocalist on "We Got The Power," where Savages' Jehnny Beth belts out an anti-Trump anthem. That Albarn seems to have made peace with his old Britpop rival is almost as much a message of love and unity as the song itself. When those two were trading insults in the '90s, their reconciliation would seem as farfetched as the world that Humanz now occupies.
01. Intro: I Switched My Robot Off
02. Ascension feat. Vince Staples
03. Strobelite feat. Peven Everett
04. Saturnz Barz feat. Popcaan
05. Momentz feat. De La Soul
06. Interlude: The Non-Conformist Oath
07. Submission feat. Danny Brown & Kelela
08. Charger feat. Grace Jones
09. Interlude: Elevator Going Up
10. Andromeda feat. D.R.A.M.
11. Busted And Blue
12. Interlude: Talk Radio
13. Carnival feat. Anthony Hamilton
14. Let Me Out feat. Mavis Staples & Pusha T
15. Interlude: Penthouse
16. Sex Murder Party feat. Jamie Principle & Zebra Katz
17. She's My Collar feat. Kali Uchis
18. Interlude: The Elephant
19. Hallelujah Money feat. Benjamin Clementine
20. We Got The Power feat. Jehnny Beth