Gorillaz will always, in my mind at least, be the perfect fictional band that isn't really a band. A group whose image is completely separated from the artists who created them. Who theoretically could be continued forever past the point of their inventors demise. A group whose digital representation exists past the borders of conceived reality, and into the realm of facsimile and imitation. Created by musician Damon Albarn (of Blur) and artist Jamie Hewlett (of Tank Girl), who envisioned the project to be an Eff-you answer to modern pop's artifice. Take the distance between the pop star's image and the actual creation of the music and stretch it, on the rack, to its extreme — make the band entirely virtual. Albarn, along with the ever-shifting group of musicians he enlisted, would make the music, and Hewlett would be in charge of the visuals. They would lure with pop, deliver something substantive.
Humanz, the seventh studio effort, showcases that these animated proxies still know how to rock. I do miss the layered production of a Dan the Automator and a Brian Burton A.K.A. Danger Mouse. However, The LP is almost entirely synthesizers, Damon Albarn made use of iPad applications to create the sonic architecture. There are almost no organic instruments on this thing whatsoever. Albarn is happy to cede the spotlight on record, too. He lets more of-the-moment guests like Keela, Vince Staples and Jehnny Beth of Savages take center stage on Humanz biggest tracks while offering sporadic vocal commentary from the wings.
My personal favorite guest spots are the rappers. Vince Staples, De La Soul, Danny Brown and Pusha T all absolutely slay their cameos. I wish they'd given Pusha T a little more room to be Pusha T on “Let Me Out”. However, It is a great collaboration with the R&B and gospel legend, Mavis Staples. Popcaan is another highlight for me. More people should listen to his dancehall opus, Where We Come From. Both Popcaan and Gorillaz make perfect summer music so finding them on “Saturn Barz” is gold. “Hallelujah Money” starring 2015 Mercury prize winner Benjamin Clementine in full quavering voice mode, features lyrics about building walls and the all-consuming desire for power (Sound familiar?). “We Got The Power” is an impassioned call to arms by Albarn opens the track – “We’ve got the power to be loving with each other no matter what happens”. The positivity and defiance refuses to let up, as Jehnny Beth speaks of having a “heart full of hope, I will change everything” over a typically frantic set of percussion and soaring keys.
The group has never made a bad album, each of their LP’s a beautifully realized alternate universe. Gorillaz make concept albums not burdened with the weight of an actual spelled-out concept, with one or two undeniable singles to anchor it in real-world pop. The shift towards more aggressive dance has made me disappointed that it wasn't more Clint Eastwood and Manana but that's what evolution is....evolution. They exist on their own evolving musical timeline - separate from (but still connected to) ours. As it stands the singles are catchy, upbeat, and still somehow jaunt between the here and now… AND in the late 90's/early 2000's euro sound that just will not go away because well, it can't. It's what they do and they do it well.
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