Humanz is the eclectic examination of a world gone mad that we so desperately need, and it couldn’t have come sooner. A masterful homage to soul and hip-hop with a characteristic glossy coating of dystopian mores, it comes across as a series of pet projects and less of a cohesive musical experience. Only when we tap into the lyrics of each song and their coalescence into a larger message do we see how they come together for an experience like no other.
The opening track, ‘Ascension’ contains what is perhaps the most striking line on the entire album, wherein Vince Staples raps to gospel inspired punk rock, proclaiming the right to exist as a minority. He fires back at Albarn’s disaffected white liberalism in the song with:
“I’m just playing, baby, this the land of the free
Where you can get a Glock and a gram for the cheap
Where you can live your dreams long as you don’t look like me
Be a puppet on a string, hanging from a f****** tree.”
Setting the socio-political tone for the album to a twerkable beat and chorus, ‘Ascension’ is eccentric and demanding of its audience. These artists have something to say, and they aren’t holding back.
In interviews before the album release, Pusha T and Albarn have stressed the political leanings of the album. Billed as a dance party for the end of the world (read: a Trump victory), Albarn has invited artists both young and seasoned to speak to the reality of a nation turned on its head by a historic election with decidedly dire consequences for the world at large. While it maintains his distinct misanthropic design, even more than on previous Gorillaz albums he has stepped aside and allowed the other artists speak through his music to great effect.
The track ‘Hallelujah Money’ features Mercury Prize winner Benjamin Clementine crooning over an uneasy beat about the dangers of a society too hasty to bank on money and power to achieve a means to an end. It’s a protest of the nature of empty political promises and posturing at the expense of the people those with power are supposed to represent.
Take a ride with the stirring vocals of Anthony Hamilton on ‘Carnival’ as he regales us with a metaphorical ride of a lifetime. His classical voice cuts through the track, wrapping a paralyzing social commentary on the nature of success and loneliness in a velvety cocoon of soulful melody.
The bludgeoning beats of ‘Momentz’ feature veterans De La Soul driving home the idea that we should live for the moment, while the characteristic husk and gravity of icon Grace Jones seems to haunt ‘Charger.’ At times she overwhelms Albarn’s softer chorus, in tandem with the electric syncopation, to almost ethereal effect.
The crux of the album is easily the collaboration with Pusha T and Mavis Staples on “Let Me Out”, a song that reaches into the heart of black America and realizes their fears and anguish regarding the reality a Trump Presidency. It plays on perverted religious imagery to incite the listener to understand the dangers of demagougery and blind trust in someone who claims to deliver salvation.
Spring 2016, we were in London, and they were like, ‘Yo, the Gorillaz have this record.’ … It was no hesitation on my end. When I get over there, Damon begins to tell me to conceptualize the album as a party for the end of the world, like if Trump were to win. … I didn’t want to think about it, but that did give me a very colorful backdrop … I wrote from the perspective of this day … from the perspective of a Trump win. So when this shit really happened, I was like, ‘Wait a minute.‘ And then I started wondering, ‘What kind of a crystal ball does this guy have?’
The album proper ends with the ever hopeful ‘We Got The Power’, attempting to persuade the listener to abandon all they thought was impossible to embrace their power as a mass of individuals who want to enact change. It is a soaring melody that inspires us to work together toward our common goals as human beings.
The culmination of this project reflects upon the juxtaposition of our current oligarchical and money obsessed culture with our desire to feel lifted and enlightened by greater wisdom. It reaches far beyond the symbolic American election and implores the soul of every thinking person to reconsider what they value most. Our moral decay does not come from clashes over racial tension, or political leanings or even our own interpretations of our evolving societies; instead, this moral decay comes from within each individual as they deny their own part in creating a world that no one favors, or would care to dwell in for very long. We have dreams, and we have the power to change it. Now is the time to reflect and create the change we want to see.
The Gorillaz have hit this one out of the park both musically and lyrically. Pick up your copy or stream it on Spotify today!
[Editor’s Note: This review is the interpretation of the author based on the intent of the artist. Any political commentary is solely the reflection of the author, and not a reflection of the magazine as a whole.]