Did you forget about the the Gorillaz? Because don’t worry—their first album in seven years will remind you who they are, what they’re about, and why they’re who you should be listening to.
This new album, “Humanz,” kills it with unique and precise collabs, virtual 360 music videos, and a single that’s topped the alt music radio charts since its first week. “We Got the Power” sits on the brink of sappy, but honestly who doesn’t dig the vocals by Savages’ Jehnny Beth?
For those who missed out, the Gorillaz put out music in the early 2000s as a virtual hip-hop group. The faces of the band include 2-D on the keys, Russell as the drummer, Murdcok as the crew leader and bassist, and Noodle, a ten-year old Japanese guitar player. The four animated characters are illustrated by animator Jamie Hewlett, who worked with co-creator Damon Albarn, from Blur (anyone else remember that “whooo-ooooo” song?). Their early hits included “Feel Good Inc.,” “Dirty Harry,” and “Clint Eastwood.” The music videos paired with their songs include driving through a war-torn desert, fighting enormous villains, or dancing around a giant singing human head. They rely heavily on the theme of being transported somewhere unreal, magical, and nightmarish. Oftentimes, characters end up waking up to return to their mundane reality.
The Gorillaz continue this way with their 360 music video for “Saturnz Barnz,” which truly re-introduces us to the band. Chris Plante from “The Verge” compared them to a modern Scooby-Doo gang, except when this group of friends meet their monsters, they’re far from safe. Rather, they’re suffocated, drowned, and sent into space—pretty much all at the same time. A non-360 version is available as well, which if you’re anything like me, is helpful because it can help you from accidentally looking at a wall for half the video.
Out twenty-four hours before Trump’s 100th day in office, the underlying political tone of the album and it’s paired videos are impossible to ignore. From the bonus track, “Ticker-Tape”: “Cause we’re working through it/ Working through your nightmare […] Working through the night shift,” followed by breaking glass in the next track. The video for “Hallelujah Money” features the track’s lead singer Benjamin Clementine singing from Trump Tower. If the song title and lyrics (“If this be the end, then so shall it be”) don’t convey the song’s meaning clearly enough, the horror movie imagery helps drive the point home.
And if that didn’t do it, it ends with a recognizable scream from your childhood friend SpongeBob.
Part of the album can be a little too Banksy for me. Having the crowd repeat “I promise to be unique! I promise not to repeat things other people say!” in unison was a little too obvious for me. The generalization of the concept and the endless possibilities of who this group of people could be (Trump voters? Followers of pop music? Everyday consumers?) keeps it too heavy-handed for me as a listener.
Overall, the album is beautiful. It’s got more length and variety than one can expect from most albums, the lyrics are poignant, and there’s enough collabs to make your head spin. I personally found myself listening more to the tracks that are too quiet and sad for radio time, like “Busted and Blue,” which officially made it onto my list of favorite songs to ugly cry to.
Feel like you’re not getting enough? Murdock and 2-D recently did a half-hour virtual interview which is available now on YouTube. Ironically, they spend a good deal of time describing their favorite real-world cities to hang out in and record, such as Paris and Brooklyn.
Considering where their videos tend to take them, maybe we can take their word for it. The surreal work of the artists behind the band doesn’t glorify the unreal, rather it reminds us that as bad as the world we exist in gets, at least we can take hold in that we’re not floating in space with a piece of talking pizza next to us.
(Or are we?)