7 years post 2010’s album Plastic Beach, (6 if you count the follow-up “The Fall”), Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett have taken their time with their collaborative musical project Gorillaz. Both had their own things, Damon even releasing a new album and composing for an opera, while Hewlett got married and opened an art exhibition for himself. Work on Gorillaz’ Humanz, due on 28th April (it is 22nd at the time of writing), only began in 2014, but that’s that.
The new album is all that you would expect, and more, with the virtual parties, a reality app, a Demon Dayz festival, 3d experiences as a music video (Saturnz Barz), essentially deciding a new concept for this new album, this is them going big.
The name is a bit reminiscent of their debut album, self titled Gorillaz (2001), which was a breakout from the get-go, selling over 7 million copies and entering their name in the Guinness World Book of Records.
As of today only five tracks from Gorillaz’ Humanz have been released officially, the album only up for pre-order, but it’s leaked online. As of a wish to respect the original artists and make an insignificant strike against piracy, all conclusions will be drawn from these five, but the album review will be of a view of all the tracks. But moving on to what I believe is really, the message of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett is for the newest Gorillaz album, Humanz.
Gorillaz at heart was always a strike against pop culture. Their decision to use animated cartoons as the ‘band-members’ was a call out to the icons that musicians were essentially becoming. The focus back in 2001 was shifting away from the music and towards the persona of the artist. By deconstructing genre, by shifting any resemblance of a personality or distraction, removing any reason to like their music except for its inherent quality.
As I said, Gorillaz is a collaborative musical project, and this was never more true than it was for their new album. The album cover, a collage of showing the members 2-D, Noodle, Murdoc and Russel in a portrait , seems like an effort to preserve them. Full of collaborations in almost every track spare the soundbites, (and Busted and Blue, arguably the best track off the record).
Each track has seemingly no connection, as the interludes seem to suggest the listener is in an elevator moving between parties devoid of logic. And that’s alright. This album is just fun. But it’s real message is a voice against the ignorance of the racism that seems to be growing each day. Damon in an interview to Genius has this to say about the album-
“[Humans are] in transition. We’re turning into something else. The album kind of came from this dark fantasy, which I suppose came into my head the beginning of last year… Just imagine the weirdest, most unpredictable thing happening that changes everything about the world. How will you feel on that night? How will you kind of go out? Will you go and get drunk? Will you stay home and just watch TV? Will you talk to people?… It’s got an interesting atmosphere about it, this record, because it’s a party record. It’s a club record, but it’s got this weird sort of darkness about it.”
The five new tracks of Gorillaz’ Humanz released, Ascension(feat. Vince Staples), We Got The Power, Saturnz Barz (feat. Popcaan), Andromeda (feat. D.R.A.M.), Let Me Out (feat. Mavis Staples and Pusha T.) all have the darker theme of racial commentary. In times when Black Lives Matter protests turned violent, devolving into muggings and violent riots discrediting an otherwise worthy cause, at a time when racism against the minorities is overlooked (this is not only the USA we are talking about here- in our country, India, incidents in Greater Noida and Bangalore, multiple incidents sprouting up in the span of the last two years all across Europe in UK and France, but the global worldview being racial prejudice is non-existent), and the Internet plays it down or turns it on it’s head – YouTuber Joey Salads admitted to faking “social experiments” that portrayed people of African ethnicity in poor light, inciting racist comments, and when voices are raised against prejudice, they’re often just thought of making too big a deal of something non-existent.
At a time when everything is ‘fake news’, and unintentionally the Trump presidency might have brought out the worse sections of society, Gorillaz provides the mature response. The album is ironically self-aware with its interludes, but you can’t help but think of a serious message. In Ascension featuring Vince Staples
“I’m finna turn Obama to my patna ‘fore he dash
Pull up to his pad, wipe my ass with the flag
I’m just playing, baby, this the land of the free
Where you can get a Glock and a gram for the cheap
Where you can live your dreams long as you don’t look like me
Be a puppet on a string, hanging from a f***ing tree”
While the collaborations seems to be obviously integrating black culture, (or fine, if you insist culture is regional not ethnical, Jamaican and underground hip-hop influences). They’re all making a bigger point. Let Me Out is almost painfully obvious in its lyrics about the presidency –
“Mama, they tried my patience
Obama is gone, who is left to save us?
So together we mourn, I’m praying for my neighbors
They say the devil’s at work and Trump is calling favors
You say I’m dangerous, I speak for the nameless
I fly with the vultures, I be with them bangers
If change don’t come, then the change won’t come
If the bands make ’em dance, then the rain gon’ come”
Subtle. Damon did say he removed most of the references to the Donald, as he didn’t want him getting any more attention than he already does, but I guess some things just don’t work without. (There is still a bonus track titled “The Apprentice”. As I said, subtle.)
But if anything, Gorillaz’ Humanz is still them. Andromeda is a song that features 2-D’s vocal in his own style, and Saturnz Barz with its video has made its own meme- “T H E B A T H”. Which if anything makes it the perfect commentary for speaking out against what we believe is unfair. As Jay-Z said –
“Racism is taught in the home. We agree on that? Well, it’s very hard to teach racism to a teenager who’s listening to rap music and who idolizes, say, Snoop Dogg. It’s hard to say, ‘That guy is less than you.’ The kid is like, ‘I like that guy, he’s cool. How is he less than me? ”
The Gorillaz reach far and wide. There’s a subtext that is hard to ignore. We shouldn’t ignore it like we turn a blind eye to the instances of racism today. We’ve accomplished a lot between the last 50 years or so for equal rights for all people, living up to our name of really, being human.
Of course, if you want to just enjoy the album, you can do that. Damon probably wouldn’t mind, in fact he’d want you to. This is a silly album that plays on itself as well. It’s only as deep as you want it to be. But I guess an overarching message could be found in a track that they released early –
“We’ve got the power to be loving each other
No matter what happens, we’ve got the power to do that
On a le pouvoir de s’aimer, okay?”
-We Got The Power(feat. Jehnny Beth of the Savages and Noel Gallagher).
As a track made between two people who didn’t really like each other speak of loving everybody around, it’s hard to disagree with the tones. Most of the tracks do vibrate with a dark energy unique to the Gorillaz, but this is probably what sets it out.
Best tracks – Busted And Blue, We Got The Power, Charger.
If this track does inspire other people, to make more mature criticisms of our society, or works of art that really ask us to change our view of people in a positive light, despite the dystopian vision Damon had for this album, he might not be happy, but I’m pretty sure he’ll be feeling glad.