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Music Review: Gorillaz Tune in Music from the Masses in Their New Album

The genre-defying virtual band makes a strong comeback with its fifth studio album

Shantanu David | News18.com

Updated:June 15, 2017, 11:00 AM IST
Music Review: Gorillaz Tune in Music from the Masses in Their New Album
A screen grab from Humanz (Image courtesy: Gorillaz official Youtube page)
Album: Humanz; Artiste: Gorillaz; Label: Warner Bros.; Rating: 4.5/5

Giving hope to kids, and adults, with overactive imaginations since the turn of the 21st Century (or 2000 if you want be technical or boring, which of course you don’t, dear reader), Gorillaz returns with their fifth studio album, Humanz. And just as the millennials were tiring of the music, or at least getting confused by the sheer variety on offer.

In the beginning, the virtual band of animated members 2-D, Murdoch Niccals, Russel Hobbs and Noodle, which was created by real life vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Damon Albarn and artist and character creator Jamie Hewlett, provided an aural escape for a lot of us growing up among the schizophrenic sounds and tunes that defined '00s music. Gorillaz didn't bend genres so much as ignore them, happily demolishing boundaries between different styles and creating their own soundscape to tune into. Basically, they blurred lines before Robin Thicke made it hip and before Emily Ratajkowski made it sexy.

Tracks like Clint Eastwood and Dirty Harry (which also serve as a handy primer for kids who don't know of the Hollywood icon's decades long resume), Feel Good Inc., Kids with Guns and Dare among others reeled us in with their seamless combination of digital tuning, voice and other audio samples and whichever dozen of instruments Albarn happened to be playing on in that particular album. There wasn't really any other act to compare them to because the Gorillaz followed their own distinctive path of musical evolution, mutating and musing as they went. Even their albums didn't follow the typical Western formula of coming up with new tracks for each successive record; there were some of those but every album also contained new tinkerings and variations of previous numbers: new songs for old, as it were. Different artistes and sessions musicians joined the band, er, Albarn, for songs with collaborators ranging from rappers, beatboxers, Oriental instrumentalists, singers whether of gospels, Ragas or indigenous Afrikaans, all of it coming into a sound that was uniquely the Gorillaz. Given their various globetrotting endeavors and artistic projects, it's no surprise Albarn and Hewlett can call on such a global collective of talents.

Humanz continues this tradition of non-tradition, in this instance coming out with a playlist with wholly new numbers sans refurbishments. The album has 20 “tracks” (for lack of a better word) which include audio samples from the launch of the space shuttle Discovery and a Steve Martin comic monologue, innumerable guest vocals, various synthesized melodies and of course the electro-pop gurgles, burbles and other sound effects that characterize, in part, the band. If tracks like Ascension and Saturn Barz come with a strong undercurrent of R&B, other songs like the bass and beat-heavy Momentz and Charger (which features the inimitable Grace Jones in a vocal duel with Albarn) take another sonic route entirely. Songs start off somewhere but end up in almost another dimension; an aural reinterpretation of what hoary old chestnuts (and travel channels) repeat ad infinitum, it’s not the destination but the journey. And yet for all the breaks and the interludes, the horror film dialogues and laugh tracks, all punctuating the actual music, the album comes together with a kind of beautiful incoherence. Just like some humans.
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