(Album Review) Gorillaz – Humanz

“Drop that ass before it crash.”

Hard to believe that the concept of Gorillaz was developed by singer/songwriter Damon Albarn and visual artist James Hewlett almost 20 years ago (1998). Gorillaz self-titled debut came out in 2001. Here’s some perspective: In 1998, President Bill Clinton denied having sexual relations with Monica Lewinski, Windows 98 was released, Google was founded, and Radiohead’s O.K. Computer was only a year old.  In 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in response to the worst terrorist attack on American soil, Windows XP came out, Wikipedia was launched, Alien Ant Farm covered Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”, and Gorillaz dropped the single “Clint Eastwood” in March, followed by an album 20 days later. “Clint Eastwood” is still as infectious as the first time I heard it. With Del the Funky Homosapien’s catchy flow and Albarn’s sleepy yet anthemic chorus heads either nod or roll—there is no grey area. Four years later Gorillaz released “Feel Good Inc.”, the first single off their second studio album Demon Days. A sophomore slump wasn’t just avoided—a viable sound and visual triumph was established.

The Gorillaz S/T couldn’t have come out prior to 1998, but could come out now, and even 20 years from now. Gorillaz are perpetually within and ahead of their time. This could be the result of their multimedia praxis—not niche, but holistically inspired confluence. Between James Hewlett’s artistic vision and Damon Albarn’s willingness to explore new sonic terrains and arguably uncharted realms of hip hop and dance, the Gorillaz remain without the constraints of time. But it must be noted that just like the music is a collaborative effort between Albarn, Hewlett, and whomever they work with, the appeal of the Gorillaz is lost (as in nonexistent) without a synthesizer, sample, and live instrumentation meeting visual accompaniment. Albarn and Hewlett need each other in order for the band to work.   

Much has happened between their last record and the new one. Donald Trump is P.O.T.U.S., we have Windows 10, Google and Wikipedia are household names, and the Gorillaz have released an album after a 7-year hiatus. Humanz is dance music for the apocalypse. Gorillaz have produced undulant joy—each synthesized lift is haunted by decay and inevitable drop. With Humanz, Albarn, Hewlett, and contributors offer infectious nihilism—appealing, melodious dread.  There are 17 guest appearances out of 19 songs (the rest of the tracks are interludes) and each guest grafts their unique contribution to not only the sound of Gorillaz but the theme of the album. And I would be remiss to not mention the 360° video technology the creative team has employed to enhance the visual/audio experience (check out their website and their Youtube channel).  

Alien Ant Farm’s hit record came out in 2001. Art > Niche.

Stand out track: Let Me Out” (Feat. Pusha T and Mavis Staples): Gorillaz embrace the narrative of the African diaspora and the resulting social and political struggle. Soul, hope, hip hop, def jam snare hits, claps…all the goods.