With fifth outing Humanz, Gorillaz invite us to celebrate the coming apocalypse with a kaleidoscopic house party. Vince Staples jumpstarts the evening with racing opener ‘Ascension’, but this initial high is threatened by the misplaced ‘Strobelite’ and lackluster ‘Momentz’, the latter failing to match De La Soul’s previous two outings with Gorillaz. The dizzying contrast between Popcaan’s energy and Albarn’s trademark dreariness in ‘Saturnz Barz’ is just enough to get buzz going again, while Kelela delivers a wonderfully vulnerable performance in heart-tugging ‘Submission’. Even the initially forgettable ‘Charger’ manages to prove itself with its claustrophobic closing minute.
Humanz truly begins to shine, however, when it delivers us outside – by elevator, no less – for a temporary comedown with phenomenal track ‘Andromeda’. The muted bass, no doubt from the party inside, blends with the track’s gorgeously spacey synth peaks, calling to mind the best moments of previous outing, Plastic Beach. Albarn then takes to the spotlight for ‘Busted and Blue’, the album’s sole non-collaborative track, yet his attempts at conveying emotional exhaustion – via his ‘sorry-I’m-calling-on-a-bad-line’ sound – only manage to evoke an awkward sense of boredom.
On that note, why do all of Albarn’s vocal contributions on Humanz sound like they’re coming from the next room? Perhaps that’s why he keeps whispering “let me out” underneath Pusha T’s and Mavis Staples heart-stopping vocals in stand-out track ‘Let Me Out’. “Tell me that I won’t die at the hands of the police,” Pusha T delivers with barely-contained anger in a track that, coupled with enjoyably-nauseating ‘Carnival’, offers the Gorillaz’s darkest sound to date.
The evening stumbles, however, as we arrive at the penthouse, with ‘Sex Murder Party’ and ‘She’s My Collar’ failing to deliver either debauchery or anything, in fact, particularly memorable. Never mind, because here’s Benjamin Clementine, emerging from the shadows, playing the villain of the evening in ‘Hallelujah Money’, channeling the spirit of Trump himself for a nightmarish rally; deliberately-strained metaphors about “our tree, primitively grown” and thieving “scarecrows from the far east” abound.
Clementine is fantastic in the role of a villainous gospel-demagogue, whilst Albarn hauntingly asks us, through the nightmarish dancefloor, “how will we love” and be certain we’ll still be human once the morning comes. And then, like all decent pantomimes, the villain’s shouted off-stage. “We’ve got the power to be loving each other no matter what happens”, answers Albarn, Jenny Beth and Noel Gallagher in the album’s rousing finale, ‘We Got the Power’. It’s a track that works thematically as end to the evening, but struggles to stand on its own feet when played in isolation.
Albarn stubbornly refuses to let loose this outing, abandoning performances like those in ’ and ‘To Binge’ in favour of a seriousness more akin to Demon Days. Humanz hugely benefits, however, when contrasting Albarn’s melancholic delivery with the clear energy his guests bring to the table, the results of this dynamic most audible in tracks such as ‘Let Me Out’ and ‘Hallelujah Money’. Humanz falters unfortunately often, however, in the hands of its less-than-stellar guests in tracks like ‘Sex Murder Party’ and ‘Momentz’, or when Albarn himself takes centerstage in ‘Busted and Blue’ and ‘She’s My Collar’.
Gorillaz’ Humanz is out now.