Gorillaz released the video for “Hallelujah Money” the day before Trump’s inauguration. It featured Benjamin Clementine crooning apocalyptic poetry over squirming chords as images of violence were projected on his face.
Fans were unsure how to take this. As a political statement, it was revered. As a lead single to their highly-anticipated upcoming album, it received backlash.
For those who don’t know, Gorillaz is the alternative project based around a cartoon band by musical mastermind Damon Albarn. After some big hits in the 2000s, he took a break for about seven years. Now, Gorillaz is back with the epic “Humanz,” reaching 20 songs.
On the opening track, “Ascension,” Vince Staples says, “The sky’s fallin’, baby/Shake that ass before it crash.” Essentially, this acts as the thesis of the album. Yes, the polar ice caps are melting. Yes, a giant, orange, narcissistic reality-television star has the nuclear codes. Yes, the impending doom of terrorism creates crippling dread. But, there’s not much that can be done, so you might as jam out to some bops until armageddon arrives.
Gorillaz is tailored for millennials. Its sporadic direction changes are perfect listening for an audience that is also doing homework, browsing twitter and binge-watch Netflix at the same time. Additionally, they span across several media platforms. Their interactive videos have scored them a television series set to premiere in 2018.
Because hip-hop music has such bare-bones essentials of rhythm and rhyme, it has been able to evolve with the times from Run-D.M.C. to Lil Uzi Vert. Similarly, Gorillaz has been able to evolve with it. “Humanz” adapts to fit current trends and features some of the best rappers of today, including Vince Staples, Danny Brown, D.R.A.M. and Pusha T.
Singers Peven Everett, Grace Jones, Anthony Hamilton and Mavis Staples all lay down some stellar vocals. Noel Gallagher sings backup vocals on “We Got the Power,” burying the hatchet of the Oasis vs. Blur beef and the Battle of the Britpop in the 90s.
Albarn tries to bring along his old friends De La Soul but they don’t quite fit in with the newer sound. Don’t get me wrong, they are gods, but in this instance it doesn’t work out. Their use of autotune over a cheesy beat is cringeworthy. It’s like when the college kids show up at a high school party and try to play flip cup. It’s just kind of sad.
On Gorillaz, Albarn isn’t so much a direct artist as he is a curator. There are very few songs in which his voice takes center stage. Instead, he steps back and allows others to shine, his voice in the background tying everything together. He is like the chocolate syrup atop the ice cream sundae that is the music.
Each song sprints from one to the next without skipping a beat. However, the music slows down for the sultry, somber ballad, “Busted and Blue,” which is quite possibly the best song on the album. The interludes are pointed and funny, especially the “Non-Conformist Oath,” where a crowd repeats, “I promise to be unique!”
The album eventually grows redundant with the same dancey, electronica style over and over again. “Humanz” lacks the low-fi hip-hop of “Gorillaz,” the euphoric rock ‘n roll of “Demon Days” and the sentimental synth pop of “Plastic Beach.” Unfortunately, the strongest material was released in the singles. People expecting a lot of sharp political commentary will be disappointed to discover the superficiality of the music.