Humanz is the fifth studio album by British virtual band Gorillaz. The album was released on 28 April 2017.
- Intro: I Switched My Robot Off
- Ascension (feat. Vince Staples)
- Strobelite (feat. Peven Everett)
- Saturnz Barz (Spirit House) (feat. Popcaan)
- Momentz (feat. De La Soul)
- Interlude: The Non-Conformist Oath
- Submission (feat. Danny Brown & Kelela)
- Charger (feat. Grace Jones)
- Interlude: Elevator Going Up
- Andromeda (feat. D.R.A.M.)
- Busted and Blue
- Interlude: Talk Radio
- Carnival (feat. Anthony Hamilton)
- Let Me Out (feat. Mavis Staples & Pusha T)
- Interlude: Penthouse
- Sex Murder Party (feat. Jamie Principle & Zebra Katz)
- She's My Collar (feat. Kali Uchis)
- Interlude: The Elephant
- Hallelujah Money (feat. Benjamin Clementine)
- We Got the Power (feat. Jehnny Beth)
Deluxe Edition bonus tracks:
- Interlude: New World
- The Apprentice (feat. Rag’n’bone Man, Zebra Katz & Ray BLK)
- Halfway to the Halfway House (feat. Peven Everett)
- Out of Body (feat. Kilo Kish, Zebra Katz & Imani Voshana)
- Ticker Tape (feat. Carly Simon & Kali Uchis)
- Circle of Friendz (feat. Brandon Markell Holmes)
In the spring of 2016, Damon Albarn tells Pusha T to picture, if he would, an album that envisioned Donald Trump winning the presidency. Albarn was working on new Gorillaz material, the first in six years, and he had been squinting at the man brandishing his shriveled claws at his Republican challengers and bragging about his dick size and imagining him in charge of the free world. “When it really happened,” Pusha T said, “I was like, ‘Wait a minute…I started wondering like, what type of crystal ball did this guy have?”
It’s a funny little anecdote, considering how closely the fifth studio album from Gorillaz resembles its predecessors in tone, style, and mood. The cartoon-band project of Albarn and Jamie Hewlett has evolved into a surprising little institution by relying on a sturdy formula: Return every few years with an album loaded up with au courant guests and a doomsday vibe that fits whatever disaster is currently dominating the headlines. Post-9/11 panic? Great Recession malaise? Trumpian discontent? Gorillaz have a song for that somewhere. Hitting play on a Spotify blender of Gorillaz will take you across eras, continents, genres—Bobby Womack will show up, as will Lou Reed and Ibrahim Ferrer and Tina Weymouth. But somehow, it will all sound like the inside of the same suburban-mall Gamestop, circa 2000. Damon Albarn’s vague ideas about societal passivity and dystopia feel roughly the same now as they did around the release of the first Gorillaz album, and they will probably feel the same in 2028, when President Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is running for reelection.
As usual, the guest list on Humanz promises untold riches—Vince Staples, Danny Brown, Kelela, Pusha T, Mavis Staples, D.R.A.M., and Jehnny Beth from Savages—on which the music doesn’t deliver. No matter the rotating cast, Gorillaz tracks come in a few basic colors and flavors: A stew of fat drums, gloomy synth patches, crooned and muttered hooks from Albarn in the background. With this reliable frame, every guest ends up smeared with Gorillaz makeup and bearing a whiff of Suicide Squad-style corporate menace.
Humanz mostly feels like a playlist as a result, with each song acting as a self-contained referendum on how this particular guest fares in Gorillaz World. Vince Staples sprints his way through “Ascension” without finding much traction in his surroundings. The joy and weightlessness that Popcaan brings so naturally to his usual guest spots is extinguished by the the drizzly murk of “Saturnz Barz.” De La Soul, who showed up on Gorillaz’s 2005 hit “Feel Good, Inc.” and on Plastic Beach, are jostled by a clomping, inelegant beat on “Momentz” that gives them none of the room to sound effortless or funny or wry or observant. They sound lost in the middle of the wrong party.
“The wrong party” or “the right party” is a useful Gorillaz rubric. Grace Jones is at the wrong party on “Charger,” which introduces you to a wriggling little two-note worm of a guitar lick before Jones shows up to mutter a few words. Neither she, nor Albarn, nor that wiggling guitar, seem to have thought of much else to hold your attention. Danny Brown and Kelela are at home on the clanking synth-popper “Submission,” pitching in measured jolts of wistfulness and pop-eyed panic. The Chicago legend Peven Everett sounds fantastic on “Strobelite,” spilling effortless warmth all over the track. Singer and rapper and Virginia ham D.R.A.M. is at the right party, pitching in stacked, breathy multipart harmonies behind Albarn’s lead vocal, on “Andromeda.”
But the sneaky star of that song is the streaking comet-trail synth that repeatedly claims center stage. It sounds thick and wispy all at once, a lovingly rendered globule of sound so dazzling it turns everything around it superfluous. Guests may come and go, but Albarn’s menagerie of pawn-shop synth gear remains the reason the party exists. The most powerful and heartfelt moment on all of Humanz comes when all the humans disappear, and Albarn is left to himself to croon sadly to his machines: “Busted and Blue” could have been a song on the last Blur album. It explores similar feelings of glassy-eyed melancholy and resignation. And most importantly, it sounds gorgeous, full of digitized finger snaps that spiral out like space junk drifting across the atmosphere. The synth washes here feel like orchestral string sections, and as the emotion intensifies the flimsy Gorillaz pretense burns off again, as it does on every Gorillaz album: All the masks and cameos aside, this still feels like a Damon Albarn solo project, a place for him to treat the studio like the welcoming arms of oblivion, and for us to join him.