A heavily underrated addition to the Gorillaz’ discography, Humanz marked the ending of the longest gap between Gorillaz albums to date. Illustrator Jamie Hewlett and Blur frontman Damon Alburn had previously abandoned plans to continue the Gorillaz only to resume once the two ran into each other at a party. As the album developed and the US 2016 election came to a close, Albarn began to envision Humanz as a response to “the world going f**ing nuts.”
Gorillaz have always had an affinity for reflecting the state of the world in their albums. Plastic Beach, one of their biggest albums, was filled with eco-tracks and a portrayal of a plastic world built on pollution. Humanz however, is unique amongst their albums as the most overtly political work. The track 'Hallelujah Money’, which talks of greed and walls, proves this.
Humanz is not as much of an out and out departure as its predecessor, The Fall, but it's pretty close. I can understand where its critics are coming from. The de-emphasis on the cartoon band was a little jarring, especially in contrast with the explosive arcs of Plastic Beach. There are some songs too that feel as if they don’t make full use of their guest singers OR Hewlett’s creations. But these are rare – too rare to justify the claim that Humanz is a mixed bag. If I bought a pack of Revels and found three coffee ones, but the rest were orange and caramel, I would not class that as a mixed bag.
Nonsensical metaphors aside, the highlights of this album come in three categories. The trippy, intricate tracks like ‘Saturnz Barz’ and ‘Strobelite’, the chanting, high-energy anthems like ‘Ascension’ and ‘We Got the Power’, and the rhythmic march of songs like ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘Let Me Out’.
Although this lack of cohesion hurts the unity of the album, it allows for an eclectic mix of styles and feelings that pairs perfectly with the theme of a world gone mad. Not necessarily because it’s a chaotic blend, that wasn’t the intention behind the theme. As its title suggests, the story of the album is about humans. It’s about a person waking up the day after something happens that proves the world is completely devoid of sanity and cataloguing that reaction. Hope, defiance, fear, looking inwards, telling the world to go sod itself, all these instincts have a place in this collection. It’s a strange sentiment, but there’s harmony in its disunity.