Special guests have always provided the most blistering moments of Gorillaz’s work. From De La Soul’s timeless, cackling spot on "Feel Good Inc." to Shaun Ryder (and his decapitated head) on "DARE," these four characters have always called on music’s biggest names to give them a helping hand.
On fourth album Humanz though, they completely hand the floor to their guests. The downtempo, ambient "Busted and Blue" is the only track that doesn’t host a feature spot, and the sheer number of different voices heard across the album’s 20 tracks makes Humanz a disjointed, but consistently engaging listen.
Right off the bat, the record barges down the door courtesy of a vicious Vince Staples cameo on opener "Ascension," and the tempo never really lets up for the next hour. The four tracks the band shared prior to the release of Humanz all give a pretty good indication as to the direction the album is taking Gorillaz — and also prove to be its standouts.
"Ascension" bleeds into the Popcaan-featuring "Saturnz Barz" via "Strobelite," a pedestrian take on pop-house that you could imagine on a Disclosure album without stretching the imagination too much. "Saturnz Barz" teams Popcaan’s bright, elastic vocals with a gorgeous, melancholic chorus from Damon Albarn. The Blur frontman takes a back seat for much of Humanz, and when he does interject in a handful of its tracks, he’s used sparingly — but always to maximum effect.
From the hyperactive "Momentz," which sees De La Soul returning to the fold once more, to the creepily intense, Grace Jones-featuring "Charger," Humanz is by far the weirdest Gorillaz album ever released, and is a struggle to get through in one sitting. Still, there’s a certain cohesion here through it all, largely focused around dissatisfaction and rallying together.
While "Ascension" sees Staples spitting that "you can live your dreams as long as you don’t look like me," the euphoric closer "We Got The Power" serves as a battle cry of a finale, with Jehnny Beth of Savages yelping along like they’re her very last words. For a band known for their otherworldly nature and removed from reality, Gorillaz’s new album sees the characters handing over the reigns to the humans — humanz*, sorry — and creating their biggest, most politically-charged statement yet, all through the mouthpiece of music’s biggest names.
Song You Need To Hear: "Ascension"
Parlophone / Warner Bros. Records