Humanz doesn’t feel all that human. In fact, it barely feels like an album at all; more like an extended mixtape, with a long list of guests who share the same doomsday despair, however vague the vision may be. Unfortunately, these visitors don’t seem to be involved as much as they seem to be intruding, and the abundance of outside talent is a big reason as to why Humanz rarely sounds like a Gorillaz album. It’s too inconsistent to be cohesive, and it’s too much of a frenzy to be all that enjoyable. Ultimately, listeners are left with a feeling of disconnect that makes the record a hard sell.
As with any Gorillaz album, there are great moments. The sizzling synth that steals the show on “Andromeda”; the beautiful space of “Busted and Blue”; the vocal hook on “Let Me Out”, and again on “Sex Murder Party”. These are key instances of Albarn taking centre stage, avoiding any distractions, and focusing on what made Gorillaz so appealing in the first place. Humanz lacks more of these special melodic moments, the type that made Demon Days such an entertaining experience. This is partly due to the lack of Albarn’s vocals, and when 2-D does eventually turn up, it’s a welcome relief more than anything else.
Regardless, Humanz would still be a solid record if not for the profusion of questionable creative decisions. After a solid trio of pop songs, “Momentz” bursts in with the most obnoxious, inappropriate beat imaginable, and the track never really stands a chance. “We Got the Power” is an underwhelming closer with an uncharacteristically clumsy chorus, and the five inane interludes scattered across the album inject nothing into the overall experience. The least I expected was some personality, but even that is scarce. Fortunately, Humanz has the benefit of having something for everyone. It settles for being a jack-of-all-trades and the master of nothing.
6 out of 10
Damon Albarn and his impressive entourage set expectations high, the man himself describing Humanz as ‘a party album for the end of the world’, while four (mostly) great singles laid the bait. “Ascension”, featuring the exciting talent of Vince Staples, seizes the doomsday concept with bars detailing the death of God, the falling of the sky, and the dropping of the ass, setting the apocalyptic party tone I expected. Unfortunately, the thread is dropped and doesn’t get picked back up until later, and it becomes clear that Humanz has little focus, struggles to play to Gorillaz’ strengths, and suffers from its rudderless form.
There are tracks to like, namely those that double-down on the melancholy you’d expect and actually sound like Gorillaz songs. The album hits its stride with Kelela’s soulful and engaging vocals on “Submission”, although Danny Brown’s verse feels shoehorned in. His lines are good, but I’m not convinced they add anything to the track that would be missed if they’d been cut. “Charger” benefits from feeling like it was led by Albarn, with a hook that the majority of the album is gasping for. “Carnival” is rich with moody synths, melodies, and refrains, but it’s disappointingly short and lacks 2-D’s crooning which often rescues other, weaker tracks. Anthony Hamilton’s vocals are wonderful, all the same.
Then the album’s inconsistencies reappear, culminating in the obnoxiously saccharine, trite, and ill-fitting “We Got the Power” that pushes aside the superior option for a closing track, “Hallelujah Money”. At large, the album’s songwriting is fairly subpar, suffering from attempting to say everything it can and ultimately saying nothing inspired or new. Humanz is by no means a terrible album, but it’s definitely a disappointing one. It’s at its best when Albarn’s influence is clear, when it revels in its misery and focuses on its apocalyptic theme, and when the impressive list of features is held back from quashing the elements that make Gorillaz sound like Gorillaz.
6 out of 10
I no doubt set myself up for disappointment this week. My time with the back catalogue from the animated outfit has been thoroughly enjoyable thus far, but Humanz falls a little flat in comparison. It’s a varied album for sure, featuring a star-studded list of great collaborations, and while that’s not anything new for a Gorillaz release, Humanz has far less of that Gorillaz quirk that I’ve come to know and love.
Listening to a track like “Saturnz Barz”, you’d hardly know Gorillaz had any involvement, with Albarn’s low key vocals only emerging midway through the song. It’s instead tracks like “Busted and Blue” and “Charger”, where Albarn plays a leading role, and the slightly more left-field ideas emerge in the instrumental composition, that I yearn to hear more of.
It’s a shame that these only make up a portion of the overall album. At 50 minutes, this is another album that feels slightly on the long side: with the cruft cut from the tracklist, it may well have hit the spot more squarely. “Momentz” is a good example of a track that looks great on paper – Gorillaz with a De La Soul feature and a cartoonish vibe – but with the intrusive beat that comes with it, it feels closer to will.i.am’s idea of dance pop than a genuinely fun track.
Humanz is by no means bad, and the middle portion continues to grow on me, but it hasn’t done enough to earn a place alongside their previous output.
6 out of 10