Typically clued-in and wised-up, Gorillaz – the cartoon faced package for former Blur-ite Daman Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett – return with a full slate of 14 songs, a long list of musical styles, and almost as long a list of collaborators.
Although the material is by and large written by Albarn, the so-called group has always hosted multiple lead voices and heavily played on the ability, thanks to the Hewlett cartoon characters being the public presence, to exist like Game Of Thrones’ Faceless Men: being whatever you need them to be.
Humanz is all that and more. Existing on multiple planes of hip hop, soul, R&B, techno, Caribbean, American, English, there’s ideas galore here, many of them poinpoint sharp. If the commentary on the plight of the world in an age of rank venality and stupidity in “leadership” doesn’t matter that much to you, the construction of these songs will leave you at least respectful and often enough open-mouthed with admiration.
The blurriness comes in the dissipation of Albarn voice as author in the multiplicity of collaborators. And not insignificant voices either, whether newish star Benjamin Clementine (on Hallelujah Money) and Danny Brown and Kelela (on Submission), to, yes, one of the brothers Gallagher (We Got The Power).
What has always been one of Gorillaz’s strengths, the ability to house and expose other voices, here serves to pull away from the emotional core of the record.
Emotional core may seem a bit precious for what is literally a cartoon band, but look at the way a song such as Andromeda – where Albarn takes centre, works on you.
The takeaway from Humanz is not that the record is poor: there are loads of good tracks here, and I’d suggest Submission will be covered soon enough by ambitious types. But rather that while it may purport to have a cohesive story, this is an album enjoyed more in segments, in individual tracks, than in combination.
Serving a many faced god if you will.
So, Damon Albarn as a musical Jaqen H’ghar? Valar Dohaeris.