Humanz is billed in press releases as ‘the party album for the end of the world’. In some respects that’s true: there was a moment on ‘Charger’, which is the album’s eighth track, when I started to warmly consider the US’s threat of nuclear war with North Korea.
It was at that point that, looking down the tracklist, I realised there were no fewer than twelve songs left to go. Perhaps it’s the party album—for a considerable spell in purgatory.
Unfortunately there’s not much to wax lyrical about on the latest LP from Damon Albarn’s ‘virtual band’. It’s worth mentioning that, unlike previous release The Fall, all the usual ingredients are here: hilariously overblown concept (this time involving Ben Mendelsohn of Rouge One fame playing the role of the narrator), gloriously glitchy beats, and, of course, a real menagerie of celebrity musician cameo appearances—from Danny Brown to Grace Jones and ever-stable staple-pieces Vince and Mavis Staples.
Despite having so much in common on paper with Gorillaz’s brilliant Demon Days and the heavily underrated Plastic Beach, Humanz just doesn’t manage to pull it off. Collaborators De La Soul, who are normally relied on to provide the ‘chart smash’ of the record, are put on the abysmal ‘Momentz’, which has a Damon Albarn breakdown that sounds—honestly—like the ‘Oh my gosh/Look at her butt’ part of Nicki Minaj’s ‘Ana-conda’, as well as a bass beat that sounds like a compressed polka band.
Poor De La Soul, meanwhile, pull off an excellent impression of Jermain Defoe in the now relegated Sunderland side—they don’t know what they did to deserve to be here, but they’ll give it a shot.
A party album for the end of the world?
Well, De La Soul sound like the quartet on the Titanic, desperately trying to keep it together as the boat splits in two and starts to sink into the cold, enveloping depths of the ocean.
Meanwhile, there’s ‘Busted and Blue’, the customary point in every Damon Albarn record where he shows us just how melancholy he can be. No, don’t worry, it’s not a tribute to everyone’s favourite two moderately successful Noughties pop bands.
What a pretty chorus—except, hang on, it sounds remarkably similar to ‘Thought I Was a Spaceman’ on Blur’s The Magic Whip. And in this song, every time Albarn sings the title refrain I’m reminded of Duncan James and Simon Webb gyrating on stage at Eurovison 2011.
It’s not all bad—‘Let Me Out’, featuring Pusha T and Mavis Staples, is one of those brilliant mish-mashes of artists that only Gorillaz can pull off, and it features a beautifully eerie refrain—not to mention its ending. And Benjamin Clementine’s turn on ‘Hallelujah Money’ was widely dismissed when released as a single, but has a staying power which many of the songs here lack.
But sadly, that seems to be more or less that. There’s an awful lot of filler on the album that melts into the background: ‘Strobelite’, ‘Submission’, ‘Andromeda’ and ‘Sex Murder Party’ all have the same anodyne beat and could well do with being cut by a few minutes, if not completely.
And as the album winds to a close over the disjointed ‘We Got the Power’, on which Britpop enemies Damon Albarn and Noel Gallagher sing in unison, “we got the power to be loving each other no matter what happens” it makes you wonder—maybe Humanz is just a test of our faith. We’re human, after all.