Tag Archives: Gorillaz

Gorillaz ‘Humanz’ – Review

30 Apr

Over the past two decades and five albums, Gorillaz have created their own demonic, melancholic, star-studded world. If you’re already a signed up member, you’ll find a lot to love on ‘Humanz’, a typically madcap entry in to their discography. The tempos are faster, the grooves are slinkier and the sonic palette is more modern but it’s surprising how distinctively recognisable Gorillaz albums continue to be. ‘Humanz’ really does sound at one with ‘Plastic Beach’, ‘Gorillaz’, ‘The Fall’ and particularly ‘Demon Days’. There isn’t anything else out there that sounds quite like this. That’s even more commendable when you consider the vast quantity of guests Damon Albarn collaborated with – this time he hooked up with the likes of De La Soul, Danny Brown, Grace Jones, D.R.A.M and Benjamin Clementine.

Of course, as with past efforts, some collaborations bare juicer fruits than others (for my money ‘Strobelite’ ft. Peven Everett and ‘Submission’ ft. Kelela are the highlights, whilst ‘We Got the Power’ ft. Noel Gallagher and Jenny Beth feels like the biggest missed opportunity). The record well and truly runs out of steam after ‘Busted and Blue’, when the tempos slow down and the overcast mood becomes slightly too oppressive. It’s no shock to learn that when pitching the album to potential collaborators Damon called the album a ‘soundtrack for a party at the end of the world’. All Gorillaz records have been similarly apocalyptic, not to mention too long, too scatterbrained and too bleak – that’s part of their appeal to many fans, who will no doubt lap ‘Humanz’ up.

If this Is an imagined soundtrack for an end of the world party, then Damon himself plays the nagging parent, putting a downer on the vibe. Almost every time he opens his mouth he brings the mood down. It’s particularly noticeable on ‘Let Me Out’, where Mavis Staples and Pusha T’s synergy is interrupted by one of his typically lethargic melodies. This is similarly true of ‘Saturnz Bars’, where a usually irrepressible Popcaan gets dragged down by one of the sleepiest choruses Damon’s ever concocted. This disconnect between Damon and his collaborators is jarring, and the better songs songs on here are the ones where his presence is minimised.

Or indeed, brought to the forefront. The highlight of ‘Plastic Beach’ (still Gorillaz most well rounded effort) was the gorgeous ‘Melonholy Hill’ – essentially a Damon Albarn solo track. Here the equivalent number is ‘Busted and Blue’, a minimalistic number with a beautifully sad melody given an understated performance. The song highlights the album’s theme of disconnection (from political leaders and the world at large) and undercuts the cartoon group’s association with technology by emphasising real love over computer love. ‘Where do they come from, the wires that connect us…I can’t get back without you, be my love.’ It’s a message also reiterated in the album’s dying seconds when Damon reunites with his one time enemy Noel Gallagher’ to proclaim ‘we got the power to be loving each other no matter what happens, we got the power for that’. It’s an encouraging message that overrides the album’s prevalent cynicism, made more powerful because of Noel and Damon’s shared history. If those two rivals can build such a positive bridge then there truly is hope for all Humanz.

7/10

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Gorillaz ‘Plastic Beach’ – Review

9 Mar

Gorrilaz were meant to eradicate the public’s need to know everything about their stars. They are a fictional, cartoon band with invented back stories who are hidden in silhouette live. And yet the longer the charade goes on the more it seems obvious that it’s impossible to hide in the 21st century. The more Damon Albarn adds to the Gorillaz myth the more it actually reveals about him, and the more you wonder why he doesn’t just ‘come out’ so to speak. The fact that he is actively promoting this album only makes it seem more bizarre that he still hides behind a cartoon character that Jamie Hewlett, his creative partner, is sick of drawing.

Obviously Albarn still believes the concept has something to offer, and so for now he is sticking to it. Therefore ‘Plastic Beach’, the follow-up to 2005’s ‘Demon Day’s is finally with us, and it’s a great success.The story goes something along the lines of this…The cartoon characters have ended up on an island made up of rubbish, floating out at sea as far away as possible from human life.  It seems the band are building a new, better world on the waste of the old world. ‘Respect the island here, no stealing/ and no religion either, no freaking’. Truth be told, past track four I lost the thread of the story but it’s good that it isn’t essential to enjoyment of the album.

Whilst an album of this scale and ambition is impressive it is too long to be considered a complete triumph. The album passes the hour mark with ease and although there is nothing on here that stands out as filler a bit more editing would have made this a more digestible record. It’s probably for the best then that duets with The Horrors and Bee Gees didn’t make the cut, as brilliant as they sound like they would have been.

Guests who did survive include Lou Reed, Bobby Womack, Mos Def, Kano, Snoop Dog and Mark E Smith. This is easily Gorillaz most star-studded album to date, Albarn’s familiar voice doesn’t even come in until track four.  I’m not sure how all these guests play into the concept Albarn has outlined for the album, maybe the all live on The Plastic Beach as well.

So who delivers and which doesn’t? Well Mark E. Smith is brilliant on an otherwise forgettable track, Lou Reed is typically great on a song called ‘Some Kind of Nature’ and Bobby Womack is better still on first single ‘Stylo’ which has really grown on me recently. But I would say the best song here is the one that features no guests. ‘On melancholy hill’ is a delicate ballad that reminds me of Albarn’s brilliant way with a melody. It’s so good it almost makes me wish that this was a more traditional, straight forward guitar album. It feels like it’s been ages since we’ve had one from Albarn and this song reminds you just how good at it he is. He said he wanted this to be the perfect pop album but maybe he’s forgotten that he already made one and the chances of him bettering ‘Parklife’ are slim indeed.

‘Plastic Beach’ may just be the best Gorillaz album yet, it may even be the best album Damon Albarn has made since ‘Parklife’. There is nothing on here as brilliant as ‘Clint Eastwood’, ‘Feel Good Inc’ or ‘Dirty Harry’ but it’s a record in the traditional sense, one that flows from song to song, with a start and an end. Even so it is still a very modern, even futuristic album that asks questions about pop, celebrity, the enviroment and society over some great music. The questions may be a bit shaky and the concept of a cartoon band may no longer work as it did ten years ago but for all it’s flaws ‘Plastic Beach’ will be an album to remember.

8/10