Humanz, as distinct from robotic interfaces?
Humanz, as distinct from humans set to wreak havoc in nature, science, politics, personal relations and anything not nailed down and already monetised?
Humanz. as distinct from the one central human in Gorillaz, Damon Albarn?
Yes, to all of the above.
Typically clued-in and wised-up, Gorillaz – the cartoon faced package for former Blur-ite Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett – return with a full slate of 14 songs (which is surprisingly not as lengthy a result as you’d think), a long list of musical styles (which is as entertaining as you’d expect) and almost as long a list of collaborators (which is not quite as impressive as it sounds).
To that last point first. Gorillaz has always been what business commentators like to call a marketplace of ideas. That is, a chance for competing voices to be heard, sometimes in bold new contexts, and for new combinations to emerge.
Although the material is by and large written by Albarn, the “group” has hosted multiple lead voices and heavily played on the ability, thanks to the Hewlett cartoon characters being the public presence, to exist like Game Of Thrones’ Faceless Men: being whatever you need them to be.
Humanz is all that. Existing on multiple planes of hip hop, soul, R&B, techno, Caribbean, American, English, there’s ideas galore here, many of them poinpoint sharp.
If the commentary on the plight of the world in an age of rank venality and stupidity in “leadership” doesn’t always matter, the construction of these songs will leave you at least respectful and often enough open-mouthed with admiration.
References and sly mentions abound as usual, including a little nod to occasional Albarn collaborators, from the Clash, BAD and The Good, The Bad & The Queen - Mick Jones and Paul Simonon - in the interlude, Elevator Going Up, which repeats a line at the beginning of the Clash’s 1979 dig at commercialism and border free commerce, Koka Kola.
The blurriness comes in the dissipation of Albarn’s authorial voice in the multiplicity of collaborators. And not insignificant voices either, whether newish star Benjamin Clementine (on Hallelujah Money) and soul man Anthony Hamilton (Carnival) to gospely Peven Everett (Strobelite) and Danny Brown and Kelela (Submission), to, yes, one of the brothers Gallagher (We Got The Power).
What has always been one of Gorillaz’s strengths, the ability to house and expose other voices, here serves to pull away from the emotional core of the record.
Emotional core may seem a bit precious for what is literally a cartoon band, but look at the way a song such as Andromeda - where Albarn takes centre, with D.R.A.M. as a genuine guest not the substitute host - works on you.
And how the lost in space voice of Busted And Blue grounds you in the real, touched by the Major Tom-like mini tragedy. Coincidence that it’s an Albarn vocal again?
The takeaway from Humanz is not that the record is poor: there are loads of good tracks here, and I’d suggest Submission will be covered soon enough by ambitious type.
But rather that while it may purport to have a cohesive story, this is an album enjoyed more in segments, in individual tracks, than in combination.
Serving a many faced god if you will.
So, Damon Albarn as a musical Jaqen H’ghar? Valar Dohaeris.