This is it – one of the most anticipated records of the past decade.
It’s been more than five years since we were last treated to the whimsical, experimental, eclectic yet somehow free-flowing, thought-provoking genius of Damon Albarn’s virtual band Gorillaz.
Too many adjectives? Not a chance – just have a listen to the eerie, Nostradamus-esque crystal ball that is Gorillaz’ fifth studio album ‘Humanz’ and you’ll know exactly from whence I’m coming.
Described by Albarn and collaborator Pusha T as a ‘party for the end of the world’, the idea for the album was borne out of Donald Trump’s presidential nomination and subsequent candidacy.
It’s easy to see why, and yes, I could stick to the vague, generalised review recipe, but this record is one which requires something a little more in-depth.
The album begins with an unnerving intro track ‘I Switched My Robot Off’ followed by ‘Ascension’ in which California rapper Vince Staples repeats the proclamation that the sky is falling.
Staples puts together two quick-fire verses reminiscent of Childish Gambino’s album ‘Camp’, and is backed by a quintessential Gorillaz drum and synth combination.
The tone then changes drastically with the slower, more funk-expressive ‘Strobelite’ featuring the fabulous vocals of dance veteran Peven Everett.
Strobelite is followed by yet another mood change in the first single from Humanz, ‘Saturnz Barz’, featuring Jamaican singer-songwriter Popcaan.
A deliciously evil, synth and bass-heavy slow jam, Saturnz Barz is an instantly memorable, unique journey through Popcaan’s rise to prominence.
Albarn brings back his favourite, seasoned collaborators for the fifth track on the album, ‘Momentz’, De La Soul.
The New York hip hop heavyweights weigh in with their third Gorillaz collaboration, after winning a Grammy with the virtual band way back in 2005 for their work on ‘Feel Good Inc.’
The latest track, though, is more easily likened to the trio’s input on ‘Plastic Beach’, Gorillaz’ 2010 third studio album, with the song ‘Superfast Jellyfish’.
A combination of unusual, dialup-like sounds and punchy drumlines lays the perfect foundation for De La Soul’s famed flow while the rappers talk about the passage of time
The tempo of the song gives a sense of urgency and almost panic, and is followed by the first of five dystopian-style interludes on the record.
The seventh track on the album, ‘Submission’, keeps the same bass/synth formula as the previous tracks, but gives reprieve from Humanz’ scary, staccato vibe with a beautiful, graceful cameo by Ethiopian-American songstress Kelela.
Even Danny Brown’s verse in Submission is rather tame (for Danny Brown’s standards, anyway); the song is definitely one of the most easy-listening on the record and it gives us a chance to take a deep breath away from the concrete wasteland pandemonium that is Humanz.
The next two tracks delve even deeper into the scattered atmosphere of doom before ‘Andromeda’ featuring D.R.A.M. and ‘Busted and Blue’ give us what on this album is a rarity: songs with Albarn performing the majority of the vocals.
Some might say these tracks are fillers, or that there is a significant lull in the album; the latter is probably true, but in a catalogue of songs that offer so much and provoke so much thought, these gentler, more reflective tunes are a stroke of genius.
‘Carnival’ with Anthony Hamilton eases us back into the hard-hitting stuff before Mavis Staples and the one and only Pusha T slap us in the face a few times with the angsty, anti-authoritarian ‘Let Me Out’.
‘Sex Murder Party’ (no, really, that’s what it’s called) features Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz and certainly shows off the more experimental side of Damon Albarn, followed by Kali Uchis helping Albarn out with ‘She’s My Collar’.
One more interlude paves the path for a fusion of electronica, choir singing and the jazzy, almost Sinatra-style vocals of Benjamin Clementine on ‘Hallelujah Money’ – a poignant take on the impact of capitalism and its many shortcomings.
Finally, like a rose through concrete, the record plays itself out on an unusually uplifting note with the 20th and final track, ‘We Got The Power’, which features Jehnny Beth of Savages as well as Noel Gallagher in his first Gorillaz collaboration.
Leaving us with a glimmer of hope, audibly against odds, Humanz is both a testament to the power of people and a warning of the peril of power.
Like its inspiration, Donald Trump, it manages to surprise us, infuriate us and satirise itself at every turn.
Humanz manages to not only transcend the genres of hip hop, pop, experimental electronica, future soul and even jazz, but it weaves so seamlessly between them that it blurs their dividing lines.
The album’s cameos are true to the prototypical Gorillaz style we’ve come to know and love over the past almost 20 years.
Albarn has poured a little bit of each previous record’s individual ambiance into this melting pot of genres and stirred it to an imperfect perfection in what has clearly been a labour of both love and time.
This album takes you on a journey. It knows you won’t necessarily like all of it and, quite frankly, it probably doesn’t care, but there is one certainty: you will experience Humanz, you won’t just hear it.