Remember those films you’d see with so many A-listers that you think “fuck me, this can’t go wrong”? The new Gorillaz album, Humanz, is pretty much the equivalent of that. Especially in the inevitable revelation that the sum isn’t as great as its parts.
It’s a record that infuriates more than it excites. From the flowing flurry of Vince Staples in Ascension or Peven Everett‘s Strobelite, there’s the immediate comedown of Saturnz Barz with Popcaan. For every great Kelela feature, there’s an unforgivable use of Grace Jones, clouded in boisterous guitar and over-production.
The paradox becomes evident early on in Humanz. The voices eclipse the production, with Gorillaz slowly becoming bystanders in their own album and providing just perfunctory backing. It’s almost like Albarn realises this halfway through and decides to overcompensate – like the racket of Charger and Anthony Hamilton deserving way better than Carnival – and ultimately sacrifices both his band’s voice and those of his contributors.
Damon Albarn has said this is a political record – even though the eponymous majority-black cast feels part-heroic, part-exploitative – and has shorn all Trump references to make sure he doesn’t get any more publicity. That feels like a weak statement, given the urgency of the current situation, the artists he’s chosen to involve, and both the platform and reach his band have.
And in doing so, this Gorillaz record falls more on the exploitative side. It uses important voices without giving them something concrete to say, the latter half of its excessive length just running together as one long identikit drone. If the aim was to reflect the bleak portrait of our modern world then he’s certainly done that; unfortunately it just sounds like a sanitised, cartoonish and 2D view, and an anthology frustratingly curated by an outsider.