Gorillaz throw a post-apocalyptic dance party on ‘Humanz’
"Humanz" is the new album from the Damon Albarn-powered Gorillaz.
The first Gorillaz album in six years, "Humanz" (Warner), ends with a tongue-in-cheek musical detente between two former Britpop rivals — Blur’s Damon Albarn and Oasis’ Noel Gallagher. "We got the power to be loving each other," they sing, a notion that brought Noel’s estranged brother Liam Gallagher to a boil. In a series of social-media rants, he compared the song to the 1985 Mick Jagger-David Bowie duet on "Dancing in the Street," a low point in both singers’ careers.
Liam’s not wrong. "We Got the Power" is a disappointing finish to an otherwise strong if anxiety-ridden album. It’s not the fault of Savages’ Jehnny Beth, who tries mightily to prevent the song from sinking into an anthemic, self-congratulatory cliche. The track is immediately preceded by one of the album’s strongest moments. In "Hallelujah Money," the English composer-poet-multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Clementine assumes the persona of a certain would-be wall-building ruler. The tremor in his voice is almost enough by itself to convey the song’s mixture of disgust and sarcasm, a meditation on economic and racial inequality that should have been the album’s summary statement.
Albarn, along with cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, has turned the virtual band that is Gorillaz into something of a world party over the past 15 years with performers ranging from Colombian singer Kali Uchis to veteran rappers De La Soul. Albarn is as much curator as performer and songwriter on his projects, and he’s brilliant in picking artists such as Clementine to fill in the colors of his bleak, yet sometimes oddly hopeful worldview. The current project largely came together as the U.S. presidential election was unfolding last year, and Albarn guided the artists to create music that suited the aftermath of a world-changing event.
Amid a series of electronic soundscapes that incorporate club, dance hall, R&B and hip-hop rhythms and textures, Albarn packs the album with songs that speak to the instability of uncertain times. Rapper Pusha T converses with gospel great Mavis Staples as she tries to keep hope alive on "Let Me Out." Pioneering Chicago house vocalist Jamie Principle brings anxiety to the eerie whispers of "Sex Murder Party." Grace Jones brings her wicked, wicked ways to the buzzing agitation of "Charger." And Vince Staples imparts a twisted, celebratory vibe to the Apocalypse in "Ascension": "The sky’s falling, baby!" Staples suggests the outcasts will rule the world — or what’s left of it, anyway — and they’ll be dancing on the ashes.
Greg Kot is a Tribune critic.
3 stars (out of four)
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