Official Humanz Artwork

The world’s most famous virtual band made its high profile return to earth last Thursday, as 2D, Noodle, Murdoc and Russel spoiled fans in dropping four tracks from their upcoming fifth studio album Humanz, generating mass hysteria. Having had a period of time to fully digest the impressive sample offered up by the complex mind of Damon Albarn and his latest ensemble cast of contributors, it is time to assess new singles Saturnz Barz, We Got the Power, Ascension and Andromeda, with a wider look at the group’s unique status in today’s music industry. 

Four mile mi used to walk guh school dem know man story / Ha! Now mi gain up all those glory, the world is mine, the whole a it mi takin’ slowly

The lead single from Humanz, Saturnz Barz immediately sends the message that nothing about Gorillaz will or can ever be half-hearted, or indeed safe. Sonically, the track heavily features upcoming Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan who, clashed with the Gorillaz’s deeply introspective atmospherics, helps create a genuinely different, moodier vibe from what is typically offered up in contemporary popular music. 

Visually, the brains behind the band’s idiosyncratic concept, Jamie Hewlett, has conceived and directed an impressive animated video that reminds viewers that the duo remain dedicated to wholesome expression. It is abundantly clear that Gorillaz is a painstaking and certainly expensive escapade for Albarn and Hewlett – another indication that the imagined musical troupe remains as real as any unrelated projects the creators work on outside of Gorillaz. Nevertheless, the case can be made that Saturnz Barz is a less than accessible lead single, especially when compared to the likes of no.1 hit DARE from Demon Days (2005). Yet in today’s attention deficient culture, the idea of having to listen to a track a handful of times to fully grasp its nature is hardly a bad thing. 

We got the power to be lovin’ each other no matter what happens, we got the power to do that!

Second single, We Got the Power is in contrast, two minutes of pure, unbridled pop triumph. The track’s high-energy, celebratory message screams summer anthem from the get-go. It features a cameo vocal appearance from none other than Noel Gallagher, who in teaming up with Albarn achieves something once inconceivable to music lovers of the 1990’s. Yet critically, alongside the prominent vocals of Savages’ Jehnny Beth, the single refuses to entertain any retro/macho Britpop temptations that Albarn and Gallagher’s collaboration might have presented. The track is of and for the now – the only drawback being it’s criminally short length!

Police everywhere, its like the nigga killed the white man 

Ascension may prove to be the album’s most popular single. Its contemporary hip-hop soundscapes neatly fit upcoming rapper Vince Staples’ youthful vocal delivery and thus wouldn’t be out of place in the music libraries of the average mainstream clubber. With an instantly contagious hook, Ascension confirms Albarn’s statements that Humanz is by and large a party record. The hook, perhaps purposefully, appears at face value to be nonsensical lyricism, yet it represents the mindless US-Trump dystopia. Once the masses are drawn in, Staples’ self-assured rejection of American exceptionalism comes to the fore. 

I’m finna catch a body like I got a gun and badge, I’m finna turn Obama to my partner ‘fore he dash / pull up to the pad, wipe my ass with the flag

I’m just playin’ baby, this the land of the free, where you can get a Glock and a gram for the cheap / where you can live your dreams, long as you don’t look like me… 

Andromeda, take it in your heart now, lover… 

Best for last – Andromeda. The fourth single from Humanz is an instant hit. Displaying Albarn’s flavour for finely-crafted celestial synth-pop, the track’s desolate touch is reminiscent of classic Gorillaz number On Melancholy Hill, underpinned by a shoulder-shuffling groove to rival the group’s funkiest output to date. With smatterings of soul and disco to boot, this track revitalises the band’s trademark brand of trip hop. 

In typical Gorillaz fashion, Andromeda’s beauty lies in its ability to fuse deep emotions with upbeat and catchy melodies. The track would fit seamlessly onto Tame Impala’s progressive Currents (2015), displaying Albarn’s ability to remain relevant and on the cusp of contemporary mood. The frontman’s talent for masterful songwriting seems to come from a well of ever-evolving ideas – an impressive feat for a man approaching fifty. 

Embarking on its 4th Phase, the world of Gorillaz remains as compelling and exciting      as it did at the turn of the century. The band’s appeal now has the opportunity to transcend generations, a point indebted to the forward thinking principals of Albarn and Hewlett’s tenured partnership. A platform of artistic expression for its collaborators, the band is as much an authentic act as a shared canvas of global creativity. 

Humanz is set to be released in its entirety on 28.4.17