Even among all of Damon Albarn’s work, Gorillaz stands out. Indeed, for many out there it is even better known than what he made his name for, being the frontman for Britpop greats Blur. In the Guinness Book of World Records as ‘The Most Successful Virtual Band’, Gorillaz is a team-up between Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett, but made up of electronic cartoon-esque characters with identities all their own. Oh, and Albarn regularly recruits a murder’s row of guest stars. For Humanz, Gorillaz put it all in there & more.
After 2011’s app-driven The Fall (QRO review), Albarn & Hewlett had a falling out, Albarn did a solo album (Everyday Robots – QRO review), reunited his band for The Magic Whip (QRO review), and reunited with Hewlett. Like previous Gorillaz releases, there has been an impressive and innovative marketing campaign (including performing with Stephen Colbert and jaguar car commercials), with the virtual line-up of 2-D, Russel Hobbs, Murdoc Niccols, and Noodle. Humanz features guests on almost every track, save the many sub-minute interludes from Albarn (including the hilarious “Non-Conformist Oath”, which itself samples none other than great funny man Steve Martin).
At twenty tracks (including five interludes & an intro), and almost as many featured guests, Humanz is overstuffed, and the varying guests largely taking center stage mean that it’s more of a collection of tracks than a seamless whole. But those guests by and large deliver. Standouts include the killer rhymes with killer beats from Vince Staples on post-“Intro” “Ascension”, a really nice mix of the diverse Albarn, Mavis Staples, and Pusha T on the moving “Let Me Out”, and strong finish in fuzzy electro uplift “We Got the Power”, with singer Jehnny Beth (of post-punk Savages) and backing vocals from Albarn and Noel Gallagher (does this mean the great nineties Blur vs. Oasis rivalry has been settled, or was Noel just finding a new way to annoy his brother Liam?…).
Albarn has long reached outside of his Britpop origins, from hip-hop to electronica to traditional African, not to mention amazing visuals, to the point where one can almost forget his cheeky beginnings (at least until one hears a recording of the opening “Whoo-hoo!” of “Song No. 2”, played at a some sports match…). Humanz maybe sums it all up as well as anything, despite Albarn usually remaining the conductor in the back, not frontman in the front.