Someone call a zookeeper cuz Gorillaz are back and looking as mighty as ever. It’s been 7 years since their last studio effort Plastic Beach washed up on our shores and while that record was somewhat stodgified by a swarm of collaborators that didn’t gel, their brand-spanking new opus ‘Humanz’ rivals 2005’s Demon Days in terms of stylishness and consistency. Blur frontman Damon Albarn once again gathers up another exciting and eclectic roster of talent and meshes them with his usual lazy flair for melodies into a multicultural moshpit that oozes evermore so with melancholy and mania.
The album gets off to a roaring start with ‘Ascension’. Vince Staples, member of ragtag L.A. rap consortium Odd Future, rips it up with some wild verses and a ribald refrain of ‘The sky about to fall, drop that ass before it crash’ over and over while air-raid sirens blare away in the background. A perfect party track in time for the impending nuclear apocalypse although it does sound like someone popped on a 2 Live Crew song by mistake.
Oft-collaborators De La Soul appear once more on monumental 5th track ‘Momentz’. Their beefy jungle flow backs up what is already one of the more thumping, insistent numbers on the album and, as an extra earwormy touch, a squawking refrain is added that sounds a lot like the chorus girls from Grease begging ‘TELL ME MORE TELL ME MORE.’ It’s followed swiftly by ‘Submission’ which borrows much the same bumping rhythm but adds the soulful stirrings of Kelela as well as skeetering, speed-addled rhymes from mentalist Michigan rapper Danny Brown. Kelela’s slurpy smooth tones slide along like a stream of velvet milk and strongly bring to mind Kelis. Next track ‘Charger’ is one of the sleaziest things the band have attempted and is bolstered by an electrifying fuzz rock riff, Grace Jones’s dancehall interjections and a slurred, off-pitch Albarn doing his best to channel Shaun Ryder.
The production throughout is tailored to perfection. Albarn’s vocal spots blend in and around the guest artists seamlessly this time round although they often have a tendency to sit back and look pretty rather than do anything too proactive. ‘Andromeda’ is one of his more peppier pop exertions with him on lead. ‘Busted And Blue’ is an affecting if slightly blown-up and nebulous ballad. ‘She’s My Collar’ is just one of many tunes that skate along with a shoulder-shrugging solemnity.
There aren’t many missteps although there are a few missed opportunities. ‘Saturnz Barz’ is a blubbing dancehall ballad that feels tiresome the second it’s on. ‘Sex Murder Party’ is a sluggish nightclub bloodletting that doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its song title. ‘Hallelujah Money’ sees Mercury Prize Winner Benjamin Clementine do his best Old Man River rendition and then some children’s narration and is easily the most misjudged composition on the album. At the very end Gorillaz throw a scrap of their best song in the shape of ‘We Got The Power’, the closest the album comes to another Feel Good Inc. Albarn knocks out a simple but unifying chorus of ‘We got the power to be loving each other, we got the power to do that’ while Jehnny Beth, lead singer of French indie band Savages, plays the role of MC and opera singer and absolutely blings it. The song even guests Albarn’s old Britpop nemesis Noel Gallagher on backing vocals which only goes to further gold-plate the overarching message of the song. Indeed, the song’s only crime is to last a mere 2 minutes. By the time it gets it feet comfy it disappears without a trace. I guess Damon just didn’t have the power to write a middle 8 or more than one verse for it.
While Gorillaz don’t attempt anything especially new here – in fact, its handful of key tracks closely mirror the same key tracks on Demon Days song for song – they sure do give it a hell of a glossy update which makes ‘Humanz’ for sure one of the essential albums for the coming summer.
‘Humanz’ is out now via Parlaphone.