Seven years might seem a long time between albums, however, if your two creative protagonists (Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett) have somewhat of a major falling out in the interim, one of them reforms their original band (Blur), and decides to release their first album in twelve years (The Magic Whip), as well as an original solo album of his own (Everyday Robots), well, then time just flies. The impact, success and eclectic quality of Plastic Beach, Gorillaz last album proper (2010 also saw the release of the far less collaborative, 'The Fall') was hard to resist, The collaborations were inspired and the music mind blowingly creative.
The free exploration of any musical genre, where any idea is possible and where creativity and artistry is allowed to flourish is surely any musician's idea of heaven. Once again for the Gorillaz latest album, 'Humanz', Albarn is blessed by those he has teamed up with. I doubt there was any need to coerce any of the many artists who appear alongside Albarn on the latest Gorillaz incarnation because by now they all know what they were buying into. Humanz isn't just more of the same, largely because there isn't really anything that remains the same, but there is a bond, a cohesion and a vibe that runs through all of their music.
Albarn and Hewlett, now at peace following a post gig chat many years ago, have revived an artistic and creative anomaly and that has to be a good thing. Gorillaz may at times seem like a play thing, a project or just a musical folly that is an indulgence of its founders, but in reality it is so much more than that. Gorillaz music is always somehow of the moment, a social commentary on the larger social and economic realities of the world which is also something of a juxtaposition given that they're a virtual band! Musically too, Gorillaz not only beg, borrow and steal, they also adapt, re-invent, sample, re-shape and create new and exciting, artistic, intelligent music that melds so many different forms.
'Ascension', the third single taken from the album, is its first track and features US rapper Vince Staples on lead vocals with Albarn, and the Gorillaz choir, providing backing vocals. It's a Hip-Hop, Rap, Grime medley with a wicked beat. 'Strobelite' is up next and immediately changes the mood with a funky disco feel and a fantastic, soulful, vocal provided by Peven Everett. 'Saturnz Burz', the first single lifted from 'Humanz', takes up where 'Strobilte' finishes. Albarn heads of to Jamaica, quite literally, to both record the tune and collaborate with its vocalist, Popcaan. The Dancehall, Trip-Hop mix has a brooding sinister undercurrent and the pairing of Albarn's vocal against that of Popcaan is a joy over the laid back, filthy, beat. The tempo is upped as previous Gorillaz collaborator De La Soul joins the party for the riotous party piece, 'Momentz' and there, in just four tracks, you have the very essence of Gorillaz and the marvelousness of their latest album.
Elsewhere we have Albarn at his melancholic and reflective best on the James Blake like, 'Busted And Blue'. The luscious strings and barely held together, fragile arrangement work beautifully together. We are treated to funkier sounds courtesy of Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz on 'Sex Murder Party' and a dark, soulful, twilight treat thanks to Anthony Hamilton's great vocals on 'Carnival'. Grace Jones provides some wonderfully manic guest vocals on the Trip-Hop heavy, Massive Attack flavoured, album highlight, 'Charger' and 'Andromeda' seemingly picks up where Plastic Beach signed off with a bounce and some wonderfully simple hooks.
Where Humanz delivers on all counts however is where the result far surpasses the elements that lead to its inception, construction, arrangement and ultimate performance. On Humanz this is not on Benjamin Clementine's, 'Hallelujah Money', or on the life affirming positivity of sing-a-long, 'We Got The Power', but, for me, on the quite brilliant, 'Let Me Out'. Mavis Staples joins Pusha T (Tell me that's a combination you'd even dreamt of?) On the fifth single taken from the album Mavis and Pusha share vocal duties with intermittent interjection from Albarn. The Hip-Hop beat married to Staples iconic soulful vocal is an album triumph and a stand out song on an incredible album.
Damon on Humanz once again acts as a musical mixologist as he blends, melds, mixes and shakes all manner of things in his unique melting pot. We are treated tastes of Spoken Word, Hip-Hop, Rap, Grime, Soul, Funk, Trip-Hop, Electro, Gospel and more in the space of one glorious album. It's like the best street market you've ever visited, manifested in musical form and it's a must.
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