Gorillaz has never had a specific sound. The Damon Albarn side project has never tied itself down to one genre, but it still maintained identifiable – when you hear a Gorillaz song, you know it.
That is, until their latest record, “Humanz” released April 28 through Parlophone and Warner Bros. Records.
Two of the first singles which were released to tease the album – “Ascension” and “Saturnz Barz” – were solid tracks with catchy hooks and densely layered electronic beats. However, the featured artists, Vince Staples and Popcaan respectively, overshadowed 2-D, Albarn’s animated alter-ego.
Unfortunately, it seems as if this is a trend throughout all of “Humanz’s” 50-minute runtime.
On their own, no single track is that bad. As a whole, though, this record falls apart.
Gorillaz has always made a point to work with featured artists. From Del the Funky Homosapien and MF Doom to Little Dragon and Lou Reed, Gorillaz has featured musicians that run the gamut of all genres of music.
The first place Albarn went wrong with “Humanz” was picking featured artists who mostly stem from modern pop and rap. Many of the songs on this record feel and sound the same. Take, for example, “Saturnz Barz” and “Let Me Out.” Both of these songs feature a mellow, chilled out hip-hop beat with 2-D’s toned down vocals supplying the chorus.
Of course on their own, both these tracks are great, but together on an album, they just feel monotonous.
Mistake number two is the sheer number of features on this record. Among the 14 non-skit/interlude tracks, there are 16 guest vocalists and they’re all far more prominent than 2-D. He doesn’t even show up at all on a handful of these tracks.
At times, “Humanz” feels like more of a top-40 compilation album than a Gorillaz record, which completely goes against the virtual band’s former anti-celebrity philosophy.
Some of the featured contributors even overshadow each other. The track “Submission” features Danny Brown and Kelela. When Brown was announced to be featured on the new Gorillaz album, alternative hip-hop fans went ballistic. Danny Brown rapping over a Gorillaz beat? Sounds like a match made in heaven. And it is. Too bad Brown’s verse is 40 seconds long. The rest is a cookie cutter dance pop song lead by Kelela’s generic yet well-delivered vocals.
Crafting a final track that ties the rest of the record together both sonically and thematically is usually one of Gorillaz’ strong suits – from the title track on “Demon Days,” a somber rock tune that wrapped up the whole album’s themes of a disquieting post-9/11 world, to “Plastic Beach’s” “Pirate Jet,” which tackled that album’s subject of change and adaptation.
Nothing like that is found on “Humanz” because there doesn’t seem to be a universal theme throughout the record. Instead, for a closer, we get “We Got the Power,” featuring Jehnny Beth of Savages, a pop ballad with the embarrassingly clichéd and somewhat awkwardly sung refrain, “We’ve got the power to be loving each other no matter what happens / We’ve got the power to do that,” the album goes out with more of an awkward whimper than a bang.
Gorillaz manages to follow up 2011’s somewhat underwhelming “The Fall” with its opposite – a completely overwhelming mishmash of sounds and artists. It’s the first Gorillaz album to lack that feeling of utter creativity and atmosphere that defined the band’s four previous albums.