For the next twenty years, anyone who wants to release anything grander than your standard twelve track album featuring only the band in question should speak to the Gorillaz. With their recently released record, Humanz, the super group has proven that if you’re going to add extra songs, extra vocals, different textures, tempos, and talents you have to get it right. And did they ever.
Somehow, the Gorillaz even out did their sophomore album Demon Dayz, which gained them widespread appeal back in 2005. So how is it that this band of literal cartoon misfits made such a mark in an age saturated with music? To start, they released something truly unique. Humanz is political, it’s powerful, it’s unapologetically unconcerned with whatever else “music” is doing these days. This approach isn’t too unexpected if you remember that England’s absurdly talented grouch Damon Albarn fronts the group.
Albarm is more than your average frontman. Sure, he pulled off the role perfectly with Blur in the nineties, playing the part Britpop’s darling heroin-addled sweater-wearing charmer to the hilt, but with the Gorillaz and perhaps aided by the mask a Jamie Hewlett illustrated persona, he has become something completely different. In this role, he is not only a leading vocalist. He is a conductor, a curator, a master of collaboration who has learned when to tag in other elements and artists as they are needed. He takes a backseat and plays to the strength of others. He thinks of everything from musicians to mere sounds and works them in effortlessly.
How is it that this constant looping in of other artist doesn’t get gimmick? It seems every other song on the radio nowadays “feat.” someone. DNCE and Nikki Minaj. Little Dicky and Brendon Urie. DJ Snake and Justin Bieber. Maroon 5 and Wiz Khalifa. And the trend is nothing new. Pairing up for one power single has been a popular parlor trick for years. Rob Tomas and Santana. Motion City Soundtrack and Patrick Stump. Collab-ing has always been cool and it’s become Albarn’s specialty. He doesn’t seem to want to cut just another collab track with the most recent pop artist, like Sheeran or Swift. He wants to make something and that’s exactly what he did with Humanz. Every contribution is unique as the previous song and contains some universal element that ties the album together, creating a cohesive image and that is why their twenty-odd track effort isn’t excessive, it’s extraordinary. The band has always sampled, collaborated, and explored all the methods of intertwining different voices.
For Humanz, they refined the art. Listening to the record, you get the sense that the Gorillaz knew exactly who they wanted to work with, what kind of sounds they wanted to achieve, how they wanted to utilize every team member, and where they in song they were going to do it. Every second sounds carefully planned out. Not like they had Danny Brown or D.R.A.M. in town for a day and together they threw something in a single session. Rather, tracks like “”Saturnz Barz” (featuring Popcaan)” sound like a careful consideration that took into account both the Gorillaz visions as well as the featured artist’s ideas and used both sources of creativity to instill purpose into every note. It is a true collaboration. Not a ping-ponging of the mic between two people who can sing. When Albarn (as his alter ego 2D) comes in during “Charger,” it is during lines written not only for for his range, but for his character. In the same way, Grace Jones’ “I am the ghost / Provocative / That’s what I want” lyrics fit her. In “Momentz”, when De La Soul jumps back for the verse after 2D & Azekel entered for the chorus, the trade off makes sense. It all makes sense. This is the exceedingly logical chaos of Humanz. This is why it’s such an amazingly complex album. There are so many parts, instruments, minds, influences, more than anyone can alone keep track of, but the end product is utterly digestible.