Album Review: Gorillaz – Humanz (2017 LP)

The much-hyped return of Gorillaz has been justified…to an extent. It’s been some years since 2010’s Plastic Beach introduced us to some brilliant pieces of songwriting and so understandably, when tour dates and hints of new music began filtering out, the excitement levels surrounding a new Gorillaz record began peaking long before any solid details about the record presented themselves.

Released this week, the album had been shrouded in much secrecy. Initial advance streams of the album were delivered under the guise of another band name/album title. Clicking through to access the stream was like opening up a Christmas present without your parents knowing you’d taken a sneak peek.

Indeed, the tracklist on first glance was impressive. A veritable smorgasbord of guest features indicated that Damon Albarn had been more ambitious than ever when it came to delivering an album that would thrust Gorillaz back onto musical radars everywhere. However, when listened through a few times, the question has to be posed: how much is killer and how much is filler?

The answer is going to change obviously, depending on how the last two Gorillaz albums sat with you. If you’re a Plastic Beach diehard, this might not be the record you’ve been waiting for. Though in saying this, while there are licks of Demon Days greatness, Humanz feels like an album still trying to find its place. It lacks identity as a whole collection of music, which is possibly the most disappointing part of this long-awaited album – at least, for me.

Early released singles featuring Vince Staples (“Acension”), Popcaan (“Saturn Barz”), D.R.A.M (“Andromeda”), Mavis Staples and Pusha T (“Let Me Out”) were strong examples of the field Gorillaz were playing on but kinda like a movie that produces its best parts in its trailer, the rest of the album lacks cohesion as I would have expected.

Sure, the idea of coupling Mavis Staples and Pusha T on a track is an almost inspired one, while letting Danny Brown and Kelela join forces on “Submission” is another standalone highlight, Humanz toes a dangerous line of being a platform for others to experiment and collaborate, rather than establishing that bizarre and hypnotic environment they first become renowned for and inviting these guest players to lay it down in smart doses.

Perhaps there is something to be said about the change in landscape. Their self-titled debut album dropped 16 years ago and quickly whipped the modern music climate of the time into a tizz. In the ensuing years, Albarn’s projects have continued to push boundaries (reflected too in the following Gorillaz albums) but with seven years in between Plastic Beach and Humanz, the territory of popular music has changed. The idea of a ‘virtual band’ isn’t as groundbreaking as it once was and with the once-lauded ‘feature’ now becoming the norm across pop, rock, R&B and hip hop genres, having a 20-track strong album heavily reliant on them is quick to lose its initial shine.

This isn’t to say the album is worth writing off. Of course, the guest talent on Humanz is undeniable and there are sparks of spirited brilliance scattered throughout. The biggest issue I have with Humanz is that, for all its ambition and guests, it lacks a distinctly memorable quality as a whole album. Select tracks could be isolated and really, really enjoyed, but as a record I’ve been waiting seven years for?

Sometimes there can be too many elements on the plate.

Review Score: 6.8 out of 10.

Humanz is released on April 28th via Warner Music Australia/Parlophone Records.