The Gorillaz are dropping their first album in six years, HUMANZ, on April 28.
Their last album, The Fall, didn’t exactly follow the strict story of the group’s members, so Humanz will pick up where the events following Plastic Beach left off.
After years of dormancy, captivity, being swallowed by a whale or what have you, the virtual band — led by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett in the real world — reunited. The members’ individual stories were creatively documented in short visual stories on Instagram, detailing how 2-D, Noodle, Russell and Murdoc all escaped Plastic Beach and uniquely lived their lives before returning to England.
Their return, though, finds the world ready to crumble. Two weeks ago, the Gorillaz released four songs from their upcoming hefty 26-track album that detail an apocalyptic event in their reality. Then another song, “Let Me Out,” added to the known story pre-album.
I dug through the songs officially released so far, which reveal distinct storylines and vignettes that will be really fun to hear play out.
WITH VINCE STAPLES
Something is wrong. (Hint: There always has been.) But Vince Staples is spending his time facing his impending doom the way he always has: by not giving no two damn shits.
I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with Vince Staples hooks. Often, they’re repeating one or two lyrics, bridging the gap between his always-fruitful verses. But the repetition of “the sky is falling baby, drop that ass before it crash” really adds to the meaning behind Vince’s character’s “I don’t care if we’ll all be dead, let’s party” energy.
The day after the four singles debuted to the public, Damon Albarn spoke about the influence behind the record:
I suppose it came into my head at the beginning of last year, which was like, just imagine the weirdest, unpredictable thing happening that changes everything about the world. How will you feel on that night? Will you go an get drunk? Will you just stay at home? Will you just watch TV? Will you talk to people?
We see where Vince’s character is at on that spectrum.
“Ascension” is one of the best songs of the year so far, too. Between the hooks, Vince is stating why he’s never seemed to care with his usual charming sarcasm: “I’m just playing, 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/ Be a puppet on a string, hanging from a fucking tree.”
This has an apocalyptic feel to it. There’s nothing left (for this character, at least), but we’re only four songs in.
Popcaan’s lyrics of affluence and ruling the world with his friends and family are contrasted by Albarn’s (2-D) disparagement. “I got debts, I’m a debaser,” 2-D sings. “I’m a heartbreaker.” The world’s ending, and he’s all alone. Some people party and get girls to drop that ass before the world ends, some spend it with nothing, wishing they’d handled life differently.
Albarn has done an incredible job over the course of the Gorillaz’s five albums of bringing guests in to add to the layers and characters in his virtual world. Some of the best moments of Gorillaz albums happen, though, when Albarn and his 2-D character are at the forefront (“Tomorrow Comes Today,” “Melancholy Hill”).
So is the case with “Andromeda,” which features D.R.A.M.’s vocals in the background.
Andromeda is the name of a club from the ’80s in England that used to play soul music, Albarn revealed in the same BBC Radio interview from before. That’s the real-world connection. (He’s also said the song was about recent loss of people he’s loved in his life.)
But here the Gorillaz are on the night the world is ending in a similar club where everything, momentarily, sounds peaceful. This is the first moment where we’ve heard people trying to make a genuine connection, even as the world as we know is a ticking time bomb. It presents a scenario for handling the end of the world that we haven’t seen yet: enjoying the last moments with life with other people, despite the endless loss that’s happened previously.
“LET ME OUT”
WITH PUSHA T & MAVIS STAPLES
Albarn flat out told King Push to “conceptualize a party if the world were going to end,” pretty much telling him to imagine a world where Donald Trump were President of the United States. (He told him to do this more than a year before it actually happened.)
“Let Me Out” is the result, and Pusha T is in a panic. “Mama Mavis, oh/ Mama, they tried my patience/ Obama is gone, who is left to save us?/ So together we mourn, I’m praying for my neighbors/ They say the devil’s at work and Trump is calling favors.”
Where Vince Staples casually expresses hysteria, Pusha T voices a genuine concern. 2-D follows: “Something I’ve begun to fear is about to change its form.” Here’s that Albarn prophecy coming together in song. Someone’s really about to try and ruin the world. Where do we go from here?
“WE GOT THE POWER”
WITH JEHNNY BETH
Now, between Vince Staples’ assertion that the world is ending and this final song, we’re sure to see (and have already seen) plenty of points of view on how exactly we’d handle the end of the world (or, as Albarn has loosely related it, how we’d handle finding out the Cheeto would be president).
But at the end of it all, the Gorillaz and all those who came along for the ride seem like they’re going to end up alright. Or at least they’re content with how shit’s gone down, and everyone’s ready to work to get over it. The Gorillaz world has been full of twisted doom over their first four albums, but “We Got The Power” is as hopeful as we’ve ever heard them.
“We Got The Power” has a verve that preaches togetherness. “We got the power to be loving each other no matter what happens,” the chorus sings. Hell, the song even brings together Albarn and Noel Gallagher — two longtime foes.
The album ~officially ~ ends here, leaving us on a much-needed high note after the roller coaster that has been Humanz so far, but from here, the album moves into an interlude and five more songs of bonus content with Kali Uchis, Kilo Kish and a ton of other artists that may or may not add to the story.
Once people realized on November 9th that President Agent Orange would take office two and a half months later, I saw a lot of people say “the next four years are going to breed some incredible art” or something along those lines, and I hated reading it every time. But I think I was mad because I knew there’s some truth to it. Humanz isn’t a political album, but it’s certainly going to be a fresh, relevant story on how we all handle stress and trauma in different ways, based on these first five singles. And if everyone on Humanz is ready for it, fuck it, so am I.