it’s been seven long years since the last gorillaz studio album was released. Finally, the virtual-band has lavished us with not one, but four new tracks in anticipation of their new album humanz, due for release on the 28th of april.
the new music certainly doesn’t disappoint; in just four songs and eleven minutes albarn and co. manage to embody the quintessence of gorillaz: a multi-genre musical anomaly featuring artists from a variety of sub-cultures, backgrounds and nations. all four tracks are extremely hyper, frenetic and intense, suggesting humanz will be a departure from the slower and sincere style of 2010’s plastic beach and a move towards the pace set by the pop-laden tracks of gorillaz’ self-titled debut and 2005’s demon days.
saturnz barz is the standout track from the quartet and definitely wouldn’t seem out of place on demon days. featuring popcaan, it is vivacious and dark – the reggae singer’s echoes of “all my life” perfectly compliment the eerie synth, the haunting choir and the harrowing verses offered by albarn to create a perfect storm of nostalgia and new hope for gorillaz fans and music critics everywhere. while it undoubtedly takes inspiration from the aforementioned demon days it simultaneously takes gorillaz in a new direction. plastic beach worried about climate change and the state of the world, but the fervent lead single from their new album challenges its audience to be the ‘heartbreaker’ rather than the worrier amid the chaos of today’s world. It is ominous, but inspiring nonetheless.
despite this, it appears that humanz will begin with a sinister theme. ascension is listed as the first track on the forthcoming album and despite its literally uplifting name, the lyrics are graphic and provocative. furthermore it has by far the fastest beats per minute of the four new songs yet collaborator vince staples and albarn juxtapose the hyper-erraticism of the sound with hedonistic verses fed up with instutionalised racism and obsessed with nihilism.
staples rejects the established institutions, citing the persecution of african-americans by religious institutions (“they hated on us since days of moses”) as well as the political class (“wipe my ass with the flag”) and the police (“police everywhere/ It’s like a nigga killed a white man”). this culminates in staples concluding that 2017 america is “the land of the free…where you can live your dreams long as you don’t look like me/ be a puppet on a string, hanging from a fucking tree”. the deeply political nature of this song will remind gorillaz enthusiasts of dd-era commentaries on the iraq war (dirty harry) and child soldiers (kids with guns). like the former, ascension’s message is diluted by a memorable if simple chorus dressed in self-indulgence, whereby staples prefers to focus on his vices (“the sky’s falling, baby/ drop that ass ‘fore it crash”) rather than continue to worry about the seemingly inevitable discrimination african-americans still face today.
worryingly, trump’s america may exacerbate america’s racism problem and gorillaz’ hallelujah money – released in january the day before president trump’s inauguration – picked up on this as well as the dangers of scapegoating immigrants, corruption and nuclear proliferation in a poetic and poignant record performed by the wonderful benjamin clementine. the tone of hallelujah money was sinister and wicked in conveying trump’s populist platform but we got the power, released today on radio x, is playful yet powerful – it signposts a similar message to january’s single but in an indubitably more positive manner.
albarn and contributor jehnny beth proclaim: “we’ve got the power to be loving each other/ no matter what happens…my dreams don’t know fear/ i got my heart full of hope/ i will change everything” in a clear message of defiance against trump. it’s no surprise that we got the power follows hallelujah money on the official album tracklist; while the latter is definitely not a classic gorillaz track and requires a more open-mind for it be enjoyed, the former is anthemic and even has noel gallagher on backing vocals despite the track’s glaring break from any hint of brit-pop. at only 2 minutes long the symbolism in this track isn’t as subtle as it is in vintage gorillaz songs, but nonetheless continues the theme of albarn asking his following to challenge the evils of 2017 head on.
andromeda then, is the cathartic track of those released. starting slow and relaxed, it metamorphoses into something that will surely be a regular in clubs worldwide. suitably albarn mentioned on radio 1 that andromeda is the name of the club he frequented in colchester in his youth, the place he claimed to be “a positive thing in a quite grim world”. andromeda is also of course the furthest galaxy from earth that can be seen in plain sight. given that this track concerns itself with love and romances (“take it in your heart now, love her”) in said nightclub, andromeda, featuring d.r.a.m. is a divorce from the grim realism of trump’s politics and the global doom conveyed in other gorillaz songs. it is the escape to another galaxy that one often desperately needs in times of anxiety and angst. it’s not quite as frantic as dare – but it might be just as much of a hit.
despite the potential of ‘andromeda’, it is not even the best of the four new track – it falls short to saturnz barz, in case you wondering. this is surely a positive sign of things to come for the remaining fifteen songs due to be released next month.
it’s certainly been worth the wait.
Get Volume #17 here.
Words by Ollie Sirrell