james debate
james debate

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Genre Trip-hop
Label Parlophone
Producers Gorillaz, The Twilite Tone, Remi Kabaka Jr, Fraser T Smith

gorillaz damon albarn humanz new album phase 4 2017 garbage terrible bad

Gorillaz, once the party-album mainstay of radio charts the world over, have gone a full seven years since releasing their last real album, Plastic Beach (unless you count The Fall, which we don't). After much speculation, the lengthy hiatus has come to an end, and the result is Humanz.

The last time we saw them, this brainchild of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett were at something of a crossroad. Plastic Beach, arguably the best Gorillaz album, marked a shift away from their more crowd-pleasing, radio-friendly roots towards something with a bit more political and intellectual direction behind it. This shift was reflected in the notably greater variety and experimentation in the music, something which was applauded by critics, but alienated some longterm fans. With Humanz now upon us, my first question was what direction they have taken in the time since.

The first thing you notice with this album? This is a long album, some 26 tracks. Back when I was a lad, 20-track albums were common, but in recent years the trend has very much been for quality over quantity, with 10 or so songs seeming to be a popular consensus. So the quantity of music that has been produced here is quite notable in itself.

So it is surprising, considering the great variety and experimentation of Plastic Beach, that their considerably longer follow up somehow ends up feeling more one-note and unadventurous. This is very much a move back in the hip-hop direction for Gorillaz. The problem is that the band was never really pure hip-hop, it was the mix of hip-hop sensibilities with catchy pop hooks and clever genre blending that made their early work so memorable, and there is a distinct lack of this trademark creativity in Humanz.

Now of course, there's nothing wrong with making a more traditional hip-hop album, but these are just bland songs. You could easily eliminate a good 10-15 of these tracks without anybody noticing, such is the derivative nature of so much of this work. Instead, the highlights come on the few occasions when Gorillaz does try to move into more unconventional, experimental genres.

Andromeda is the clear stand-out of the album, sounding a bit like a darker, more apathetic refrain of Melancholy Hill, with some really great funk vocals thrown in. It's the only track that really compares to some of their older material. We Got the Power is probably the next best, standing out for its energy and driving beat, but even that track ultimately ends up going nowhere in its short 2 minute running time.

That's not to say that these songs are bad. Strobelite is a nice retro throwback, while Busted and Blue is a sweet, if strangely out of place acoustic track. Hallelujah Money is the marmite equivalent of music, "interesting" to some, "weird ass" to others, and generally off-putting for its overt political nature. The best that can really be said about the music is that there are plenty of interesting moments, most of which end up going nowhere, and get bogged down by the relentless tedium of the rest of the album. One gets the impression that Albarn came up with a handful of decent hooks, couldn't think of how to finish them, and just threw in some generic hip-hop beat to fill in the gaps.

One also gets the impression that Albarn is trying a bit too hard to come up with an album concept for our times and political situation. These songs are the most overtly political Gorillaz have ever done, with references to the corruption of wealth, and "building walls". Allegedly the record label made them remove many explicit Trump references before release. Don't get me wrong, I sympathise with the message, but this is just so heavy handed. So apocalyptic and dreary. And that's probably why the music sounds so dreary and bland, it's part of the concept. This is ultimately an album of dystopia and pessimism, and the music seems so focused on pushing that aesthetic that it lacks any real heart or inspiration.

So this is perhaps an example of a musician putting the message before the music. The best artists find ways to marry the artform to the message in ways that complement one another, but Gorillaz have not managed to do that here. Most of these tracks are so indistinguishable and bland, and the fact that there are so many of them means the album just drags and drags. This album would be twice as good if you just cut it down to 10 songs long, but even then, the simple fact is that there is little here anyone will remember in a year's time.

Gorillaz's workmanlike new album Humanz sets dutifully about creating a party-album for the end of the world, but lacks the band's trademark sparkle or creativity. The result is a largely forgettable collection of musical musings that are never quite as profound as the intend to be, never quite as cohesive as they would like to be. I've been waiting patiently for new Gorillaz, but this feels like an album that did not need to be made.

Must Listen :
We Got the Power

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