“It’s America that made Gorillaz,” Damon Albarn said recently. The animated band’s four albums have so far sold 16m copies worldwide – more than Blur – and that’s largely thanks to America’s warm embrace. Perhaps by way of thanks, this long-awaited fifth album is about America going to hell.
The lawless, world-altering scenario ‘Humanz’ presents us with is not a poorly attended inauguration but a massive, cross-genre party, composed largely on an iPad by Albarn and illustrated by his mate Jamie Hewlett. Taking a look at the album’s futuristic floor-fillers leads to the standout ‘Momentz’, where De La Soul give hangover advice over a strict marching beat, wriggling synths and a massive, jolting mantra. Or ‘Charger’, where Grace Jones bares some sphinx-like teeth over a distorted two-note line to declare “I am the ghost / I am the soul / I’m gonna take you for a ride/ No antennas,” while Albarn’s bewildered vocals splutter out in flouncy dribs and drabs. So strange, it’s fantastic.
‘Humanz’ features guests at all stages in their careers, from reggae’s man of the moment Popcaan to gospel legend Mavis Staples. Albarn’s explained that each contributor was asked the same question: “Imagine a night where everything that you believed in was turned on its head. How would you feel?” Regardless of the answer, the resulting collaborations had to convey “pain, joy, and urgency” – and they do. We begin with Vince Staples blaring: “The sky is falling baby / Drop that ass ’fore it crash”; the ensuing trip takes us past some last-ditch disco (‘Strobelite’, ‘Submission’) and a ‘non-conformist oath’ that runs: “I promise to be different / I promise to be unique / I promise not to repeat things other people say.” Words to live by.
It all becomes slightly non-fiction on Benjamin Clementine’s feature ‘Hallelujah Money’ – an anti-Trump eulogy for human goodness – but then comes the soothing final track ‘We Got The Power’, on which Albarn puts to bed his Britpop-era rivalry with Noel Gallagher by joining him and Savages’ Jehnny Beth for a dose of fierce optimism. “We got the power to be loving each other no matter what happens,” they yell. “We got the power to do that.”