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'Humanz' review: Gorillaz new album has moments of genius, but one too many collaborators

Gorillaz offer another album jam-packed with slick futuristic pop music. But has Albarn overloaded the bus?

  • Sean Griffiths
  • 19 April 2017

Damon Albarn loves to collaborate. There’s nothing he relishes more than gathering a group of musicians together and heading out to Mali, or The Democratic Republic of Congo, or across the UK in a decommissioned national rail train (for Africa Express) and spending time working on music. And true to form ‘Humanz’, the fifth album by Gorillaz – if you’re including the rather brilliant ‘The Fall’ (recorded on an iPad while on tour in 2010 and released to the world for free on Christmas Day of that year) – is another collaboration-heavy affair.

A quick scroll through the credits reveals a whopping 16 collaborators listed across the album’s 20 tracks, which begs the question: is there such a thing as having too many A-list artists on one album? Now, we hear you. Gorillaz has always been about the collaborations. Who else would pair Welsh troubadour Gruff Rhys with New York hip hop trio De La Soul? Or put Lou Reed on the same album as Kano? Plenty of the greatest moments in the Gorillaz history have come from Damon’s ability to put together a brilliantly oddball pairing of musicians to great effect. But, if I tell you only five of the 15 tracks on Gorillaz 2005 magnum opus ‘Demon Days’ feature major guest spots, you might start to question whether less might sometimes be more.

While there’s still room for the likes of Grace Jones and cult r’n’b icon Peven Everett, the emphasis on this album has shifted more towards guest spots from current stars of US hip hop and r’n’b like Pusha T, Kelela and Danny Brown, rather than revitalised legends. Opener ‘Ascension’ sees Long Beach rapper Vince Staples attach his acerbic flow to a footwork-esque beat, before Peven Everett steps in with an arresting vocal performance on pop disco stomper ‘Strobelite’. Elsewhere there’s an icy, synth-laden dancehall drawl from Popcaan on ‘Saturnz Barz’, a delicious cameo from Kelela on the Danny Brown featuring ‘Submission’ and a passable attempt at the kind of high drama technicolour rave that Hudson Mohawke and Rustie specialise in on the Pusha T featuring ‘Let Me Out’.

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