Gorillaz Return From Hiatus and Bring Forth New Sound
After a five year hiatus, during which their future was regularly in doubt, virtual pop/hip-hop band Gorillaz have returned, announcing an upcoming monstrous 26-track album, Humanz.
Damon Albarn, the sole official musician in the band has reunited with artist Jamie Hewlett—the only other member of the Gorillaz—to curate a star-studded double LP featuring artists including Vince Staples, Pusha T, D.R.A.M., and frequent collaborators De La Soul to name a few.
In the past few weeks, Gorillaz have released five tracks off of Humanz, demonstrating a sound that deviates from their previous work, but retains Albarn’s eagerness to experiment with new genres.
Below are the aforementioned five tracks ranked from worst to best.
- We Got the Power (feat. Jehnny Beth and Noel Gallagher)
The most upbeat song released thus far, the synthpop-inspired “We Got the Power” features Jehnny Beth of British rock band Savages, with backing vocals provided by former Oasis member Noel Gallagher. While by no means a bad song, “We Got the Power” is the weakest due mostly to its repetitive nature. The song doesn’t feature any standout hook, which is not bad by itself, but the problem is exacerbated by the monotonous verse which is repeated ad infinitum. It is still a catchy song, but it falls short of the high standards set by the other tracks.
- Andromeda (feat. D.R.A.M.)
A decidedly more relaxed and spacey synthpop track, “Andromeda” is as catchy as any electronic song released this year. Featuring vocals by rapper D.R.A.M., Albarn described “Andromeda” as being very personal, lifting its name from an English nightclub he used to visit in his younger days. While the track does evoke a sense of nostalgia, it’s easy-going sound does not get weighed down in sentimentality.
- Ascension (feat. Vince Staples)
Showcasing the alternative hip hop sound that is predominant theme of Humanz, the vocals on “Ascension” are provided almost entirely by American rapper Vince Staples to great effect. Staples’ upbeat verses are intercut with Albarn’s now iconic relaxed vocals, creating a disparity that makes the song more than deserving of repeated listens. I only wish I could meet Staples in person to ask him what on Earth “she wet like Barbara Streisand” is supposed to mean.
- Saturnz Barz (feat. Popcaan)
If not for the incredible “Let Me Out”, “Saturnz Barz” would be the best track released thus far. An effective fusion of hip hop and dancehall, and featuring Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan, “Saturnz Barz” is the first official single off of Humanz, and is the only of the five tracks with an accompanying music video. Serving as a perfect reintroduction to Gorillaz, the track is a remarkable comeback and return to form for the virtual band.
- Let Me Out (feat. Mavis Staples and Pusha T)
If you only listen to one of the new Gorillaz tracks, “Let Me Out” is by far the best choice. The incomparable, now 77 year-old Mavis Staples provides vocals which intersect masterfully with Pusha T’s verses, all of which are bookended by a chorus sung by Albarn. The song is a brilliant example of Gorillaz’ ability to mesh vastly different genres seamlessly to create some of the most innovative pop music of the past few decades. This is Gorillaz at their finest.
For a band which officially consists entirely of cartoon characters, the most amusing thing about Gorillaz is not the virtual band members themselves. It is the fact that what began as a tongue-in-cheek side project has become the most important and impactful thing that Blur frontman Damon Albarn has done in his career. Moreover, a band whose original intention was to be a commentary on the shallowness of modern pop music has become one of the deeper and more innovative acts of the last 20 years.