Humanz gets off to quite a strong start through the first three tracks. Vince Staples kicks off the album as he drives through a sporadic and glitchy beat. Albarn uses Staples well, letting him dominate the track with his fast and catchy flow. The chorus can certainly be a point of contention for some people, but it is fun to listen to regardless. Next we have the song “Strobelite” featuring Peven Everett. Without knowing anything about Everett, he seems to do a fine job with the material. The track is a nice listen, featuring a buttery smooth bass groove. The synths matching the vocal lines in the chorus are a nice touch. Although I like the song overall, the track feels uninspired for a Gorillaz release. You always anticipate a new sound from Albarn and company, but "Strobelite" sounds like a carbon copy of a Kaytranada song. A musical style I think Kaytranada does better on his album 99.9%. The final of the first three tracks is "Saturnz Barz". The Jamaican, dancehall sound of Popcaan and the deep beat throughout the song creates the interesting sound you want from Gorillaz. The spacey keys pair well with the auto-tuned crooning from Popcaan and the soft chorus sung by Albarn. But once again, the track sounds out of place on a Gorillaz album. Popcaan spends the majority of the song singing about himself. And I have to ask, what does he have to do with the Gorillaz’s world? It feels more like a good single than a track that belongs on the album.
Humanz's first major problem comes on "Momentz" featuring De La Soul. Soul is good, and he was good when he did "Feel Good Inc." back in 2005. But the song is murdered by a terrible and clunky beat. Pushing the whole song is a loud, booming bass drum that consistently annoys through the song’s three minute length. It just does not stop, and all you want it to do is stop. Another negative theme of Humanz is a misuse of its guest artists. This first crops up on "Submission" featuring Danny Brown. The song itself sounds fairly generic and is a bit boring, and sadly is not saved by Brown’s eccentric vocals. The beat Albarn chooses here does Danny Brown no favors. It just does not match his style, and ultimately clashes. Wasting the appearance of one of hip-hop’s most exciting emcees.
But then comes "Charger". Backed by a Grace Jones feature, a heavy, buzzing guitar cycling through just a few notes drives the song to the album’s peak. The repetitious riff is infectious, and Albarn’s and Jones’ vocals are both haunting and incredibly catchy. This was the song I had been waiting for, sadly it is just one song.
Albarn continues the theme of misusing guests on Humanz with "Andromeda" and "Hallelujah Money". "Andromeda" is similar to "Strobelite", with a smooth and gliding bass line dominating the song. However, the song features D.R.A.M., and you can hardly tell he is on the track. The mixing shrinks his voice to near oblivion, and you can barely catch his faint vocals. It seems pointless to have an artist as talented as D.R.A.M. and just completely ignore him. "Hallelujah Money" is strongly rooted in its protest against the current political climate. While I do not see how the subject matter fits into the Gorillaz world, Benjamin Clementine gives a wonderful vocal performance on the song. He uses a pseudo-spoken word delivery that really captures your attention. But, Clementine is backed with a tepid instrumental that fails to match the power of his voice. (Side note: I recommend checking out Clementine’s 2015 debut album, At Least for Now, for moving piano songwriting and unique vocal performances).
At about the halfway point of Humanz it begins to feel like it is too long, despite clocking in at only 49 minutes. The only feature-less track, "Black and Blue", is the most somber of the record. While Albarn is certainly aiming for a more emotional powerful cut, it just feels out of place and has absolutely no energy. Anthony Hamilton and Pusha T are good on their respective tracks, but overall are pretty forgettable. It does not help the project that there are also about six interludes that provide no additional value.
The last highlight of Humanz is "She’s My Collar" featuring Kali Uchis. The song has an interesting rhythm and a great hook, with a well-used guest appearance. Preceding the song, is one of the album’s worst, "Sex Murder Party". I just do not understand how this made the cut. Just as the title suggests, the chorus and subject is simply a sex murder party. Ugh. Finally, we reach the album’s closer "We Got the Power". It is corny and uninspired. It tries to be so uplifting, it is just ridiculous. I mean there is nothing wrong with having this kind of song, but the writing and sound is generic. “We got the power to be loving each other, no matter what happens, we've got the power to do that.” Gorillaz can do much better.
Humanz is certainly a disappointing chapter in the Gorillaz’s discography. Albarn plays it incredibly safe, and submits his unique universe to the current trend of political statement albums. It seems like this belongs as a solo project for Albarn, not a Gorillaz project. The features are consistently misused, but the album starts strong and "Charger" is an amazing moment. While the record has many issues, it is an easy listen. The lack of risk-taking all but guarantees there will be nothing that causes any sort of disgust. Listeners can go from top to bottom with no major gripes.
Favorite Tracks: "Ascension", "Saturnz Barz", "Charger", "She’s My Collar"
Least Favorite Tracks: "Momentz", "Submission", "Busted and Blue", "Sex Murder Party", "We Got the Power"