Gorillaz return as Humanz

Aoife Horan

When Gorillaz first began teasing at their new LP with the multimedia story “The Book of Noodle” back in October 2016, it’s doubtful anyone could have predicted the shape their fifth album “Humanz” would take.

“The Book of Noodle” chronicled the tale of the fictional band’s guitarist Noodle and her journey after Phase Three of the band’s career. They went on to publish the story of each member with all roads leading to its bassist and leader Murdoch’s new London apartment, a marked separation from their previous recording location on the island of Plastic Beach.

The album, which boasts 26 tracks on the deluxe edition, comes after a five-year hiatus and will be released on April 28th. It hosts a wealth of collaborators from Grace Jones and old time collaborators De La Soul, to Jamaican reggae and dancehall artist Popcaan.

In January we were treated to “Hallelujah Money”, a protest song released the day before Trump inauguration and their first release in six years. Its sound is not completely disparate to that of their most recent works on “Plastic Beach” and the “The Fall” but is yards away from their most recognizable charting tunes.

In true Gorillaz form, it is a collaboration with artist Benjamin Clementine who performs the eerie tune which is a tale of power, money, and humanity, the song is carried by the sounds of band member 2D also performing on the track.

The protest track caused controversy with casual listeners shocked by political statements coming from a band composed of four cartoon characters – but since the band’s inception in 1998 this has been a core part of the band’s function.

Gorillaz was born from roommates Damon Albarn’s and Jamie Hewlett’s distaste for the lack of substance in the popular music of the time. The idea of a cartoon band was something they wished to use as a vehicle to comment on that, with the band originally seeing itself as “guerilla” music.

These founding themes of social commentary and criticism are what Albarn and Hewlett wished to bring to Gorillaz latest endeavour. “We’re in transition, we’re turning into something else,” Albarn said in a BBC Radio One interview on the reasoning behind “Humanz”. The four band members have received a makeover from Hewlett in the promotional art – a far more dimensional, realistic illustration than we’ve seen before.

“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?” Albarn said. He also spoke of the album’s parallels to the Trump election, while explicitly stating it wasn’t about Trump, the album written several months before his presidential victory.

With the album still a month away, four songs were released in the past week, “Saturnz Barz” featuring Popcaan, “Andromeda” featuring D.R.A.M., “Ascension” featuring Vince Staples and “We’ve Got The Power” featuring Jehnny Beth and Noel Gallagher. The sound is contemporary and aligns itself differently with a direct and pointed move towards club and party music, yet stays closely connected to bands previous works maintaining the dark fantasy that is a Gorillaz essential.

“Saturnz Barz” was released along with a six-minute long 360-degree music video which featured the band venturing to their new haunted, space-traveling home. The visuals stayed in tune with the band’s body of work, eerie, gruesome, dark, and unsettling. Popcaan provides the verses in his Jamaican patois adding something fresh to a song that has a very similar sound to the iconic songs such as “Feel Good Inc” and “Clint Eastwood” with 2D providing the vocals for the chorus.

The album seems to be a dark exploration of what it means to be alive in the 21st century and being a cartoon band created in a time before social media it is apt that after such a dry spell, this shift in the world is what is shaping “Humanz.”

Aoife Horan