Humanz Gorillaz Parlophone The world’s most successful virtual band has never shied from maximising its commercial appeal. When Blur’s Damon Albarn combined his songwriting chops and collaborative nous with Jamie Hewlett’s iconic designs for Noodle, 2D, Murdoc and Russel around 1998, the duo created the perfect band.
Albarn and Hewlett have been free to spruik their wares in a variety of ways, teaming Noodle with Jaguar Racing, for example, releasing a Gorillaz-branded range of Converse shoes and most recently launching a mixed reality app and Demon Dayz music festival.
All this cross-promotion is dependent on the music continuing to connect. It has been seven years since the world-beating, guestheavy Plastic Beach and slightly less since the more experimental, on-the-road produced The Fall. Humanz is more Plastic Beach than The Fall.
Albarn has again enlisted a diverse roster of collaborators representing everything from Chicago house to hip-hop, pop and reggae. Strung together by short, largely nonsensical interludes voiced by Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, Humanz doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Rapper Vince Staples’s warning on opener Ascension that “The sky is falling baby drop that ass ‘fore it crash” channels Albarn’s conceptualisation of the album as a “party for the end of the world”, reportedly using Donald Trump’s election win as inspiration. Kelela’s blissful vocal on top of a bumpy bassline on the mellow Submission contrasts nicely with Danny Brown’s in-your-face rap that follows, while there’s a building intensity to the distorted rock cruncher Charger, as Grace Jones laughs “I’m gonna take you for a ride” over grinding guitar and Albarn’s vocal. Andromeda is a standout, a glorious midtempo, bass-heavy house groove replete with delicate vocal from Albarn. Regular collaborator De La Soul offers a playful rap over a thundering beat on the frenetic Momentz, while gospel legend Mavis Staples links with Pusha T and Albarn for the more ominous Let Me Out.
Elsewhere, Chicago vocalist Peven Everett is in fine form on the party jam Strobelite, while fellow Chicago native and house music pioneer Jamie Principle links with Zebra Katz on Sex Murder Party, one of a few more forgettable numbers towards the back end.
In poignant fashion, Albarn’s one-time rival, Oasis’s Noel Gallagher, provides background vocals alongside Jehnny Beth on the euphoric album closer We Got the Power.
With Hewlett recently revealing plans for a Gorillaz clothing line and television show, it seems there’s no limit to the virtual group’s marketing potential, which is OK because, on Humanz, Gorillaz has delivered the goods in chaotic, genre-bending style.