A month from now, on April 28, Gorillaz will emerge from the digital ether to present us tangible beings with a new album called Humanz. It’s their first record since 2011’s The Fall and a shock to the system to fans, given that just a few years ago it seemed like they’d pulled the plug. One of the brains behind the band, Damon Albarn, publicly doubted the future of the band up until just last year, when he announced that new Gorillaz music was materializing. That has turned into a project stacked with a couple dozen guests, a short film, and an album serving as an allegory for our dark new world. Here’s everything you to need to know about Humanz.
It was loosely inspired by Donald Trump.
As a prelude to the album, Gorillaz unleashed “Hallelujah Money,” their first song in six years, on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration. That was no coincidence. Humanz has been finished since the end of 2016, a year that turned the world topsy-turvy with the election of Trump as president. And while Humanz isn’t an overtly political album, it was borne of the political climate and represents a salve for it. Albarn described the album’s inception to BBC Radio 1 this way:
“It’s humanz with a Z, which, simply put, [means] we’re in transition. We’re turning into something else. The album came from this dark fantasy that came into my head the beginning of last year, which was imagining the weirdest, unpredictable thing happening that changes everything about the world. How will you feel on that night? How will you go out – will you get drunk, will you stay at home, watch TV, talk to people? I suppose we were imagining Donald Trump. The album’s not about Trump at all, but it was imagining that happening, in a way, that was our dark fantasy. And unfortunately it became reality. It’s a party record, a club record. But it’s got this weird darkness about it.”
There are 24 official collaborators …
Gorillaz are the product of high-concept digital collaboration, so having featured artists on all their albums has always been a slight necessity — but two dozen of them is something else entirely. Humanz boasts 24 official guests from all corners and eras of the music spectrum, with both familiar faces (De La Soul) and newcomers to the Gorillaz universe. Just look at ’em all: Vince Staples, Peven Everett, Popcaan, De La Soul, Danny Brown, Kelela, Grace Jones, D.R.A.M., Anthony Hamilton, Mavis Staples, Pusha T, Jamie Principle, Zebra Katz, Kali Uchis, Benjamin Clementine, Savages’ Jehnny Beth, Rag’n’ Bone Man, RAY BLK, Kilo Kish, Imani Vonsh, Carly Simon, and Brandon Markell Holmes. Rogue One star Ben Mendelsohn will also be narrating the entire spectacle (more on that later).
Albarn calls his method for building a team of collaborators a “random process,” but says it boils down to “tone of voice” and whether an artist has enough “life experience,” regardless of age, to effectively serve the album. They’ve also got to be able to get on with Albarn’s style of darkness or go home: “I don’t just work with people, it’s only if we’ve got that connection.”
... and some very interesting uncredited ones.
Along with all those big names, there are a few others you won’t find on the track list (though they may be credited elsewhere later on). Oasis’ Noel Gallagher is featured on “We Got the Power” with Jehnny Beth, which, to anyone who remembers the Britpop wars of the ’90s well, will come as a bizarre delight. Blur and Oasis famously feuded for years — Gallagher once publicly wished that Albarn and Blur bassist Alex James would “catch AIDS and die” — but the past is behind them. Gallagher went on to recant that comment and, a few years ago, he and Albarn declared a ceasefire. They’ve since played live together, exchanged pleasantries, and, now, on wax, they’ve joined forces. Albarn called the experience “really great” and even paid Gallagher a compliment: “He’s fantastic in the studio. It’s nice when you see how someone goes about their business. He’s great.”
And according to Albarn, it could’ve been a whole Britpop party because Blur’s Graham Coxon was almost on the song, too, but even Albarn thought that was a bit much. “At one point this song had Graham, Noel, and me on it, and it was sort of heading slightly in the wrong direction. It was becoming almost retro in its sort of spirit and way too rocky for this record so I kind of stripped it right back down again,” he told Radio X. “I thought Jehnny would take a bit of the testosterone off.” However, that doesn’t mean Coxon is totally absent from the album. There’s actual video evidence, shared by Albarn, of Coxon recording guitar for, well, something. And at the live debut of Humanz (again, more on that later), Coxon played “Submission” with the band.
There are almost as many songs are there are featured artists.
Officially, there are 14 songs on the standard version; 19 if you spring for the deluxe version. But if you’re counting the interludes sprinkled throughout the album narrated by Mendelsohn, the whole thing balloons to 26 songs, according to the iTunes track list. Such interludes include: “Intro: I Switched My Robot Off,” “The Non-Conformist Oath,” “Elevator Going Up,” “Talk Radio,” “Penthouse,” “The Elephant,” and “New World.”
Albarn says there’s even more where all this came from, like various extra outtakes of the songs on the album, including an Arabic version of “Busted and Blue” done with a Lebanese artist, that may someday see the light of day. “There’s loads and loads and loads of weird shit that I’ve done around this album,” he says. Albarn recently told Zane Lowe he has as many as 40 to 45 unfinished Gorillaz songs that he’s currently working on, most recently a collaboration with Little Simz. “I can stay in the game for at least another 18 months, I reckon,” he says. Here’s what you’ll get first:
1. Ascension feat. Vince Staples
2. Strobelite feat. Peven Everett
3. Saturnz Barz feat. Popcaan
4. Momentz feat. De La Soul
5. Submission feat. Danny Brown & Kelela
6. Charger feat. Grace Jones
7. Andromeda feat. D.R.A.M.
8. Busted and Blue
9. Carnival feat. Anthony Hamilton
10. Let Me Out feat. Mavis Staples & Pusha T
11. Sex Murder Party feat. Jamie Principle & Zebra Katz
12. She’s My Collar feat. Kali Uchis
13. Hallelujah Money feat. Benjamin Clementine
14. We Got The Power feat. Jehnny BethBonus material on deluxe version:
15. The Apprentice feat. Rag’n’ Bone Man, Zebra Katz & RAY BLK
16. Halfway to the Halfway House feat. Peven Everett
17. Out of Body feat. Kilo Kish, Zebra Katz & Imani Vonshà
18. Ticker Tape feat. Carly Simon & Kali Uchis
19. Circle of Friendz feat. Brandon Markell Holme
It has a short film.
Gorillaz literally couldn’t be what they are without a visual element. It’s both how they exist and how they build narratives. Their latest comes in the form of a short film called Saturnz Barz (Spirit House) that includes three songs — “Ascension,” “Saturnz Barz,” and “Andromeda” — and has the gang squatting at a house haunted by all sorts of surreal creatures … and a talking pizza. They’re then taken through a wormhole to outer space, the only place that’s ever really made sense for the band to inhabit. And soon, you, too, will be able to visit their house of horrors: Gorillaz will bring the Spirit House to life in a series of immersive pop-up installations in Brooklyn, Amsterdam, and Berlin between April and May. There, you’ll get to “bathe in high-tech sound, feast on unearthly visuals, and let the experience take you on the ultimate trip,” according to Murdoc.
There will be a Gorillaz festival and probable tour …
Before they even got around to announcing the album, Gorillaz announced their own festival, Demon Dayz, that’ll kick off on June 10 in Margate, England. Gorillaz will headline it, for what will be their first major live performance in seven years, and Albarn has teased that all the collaborators on the album are expected be on the lineup. That reportedly includes even Noel Gallagher and Graham Coxon. For anyone who can’t trek to the U.K. for a day-long festival, savvy fans have discovered that a tour is very likely in the works, so no need to worry about missing out. (Albarn himself reportedly told fans that tour rehearsals were underway.) It’s since been announced that they’ll be headliners for San Francisco’s Outside Lands Festival this year.
… and they’ve already performed the album in full.
Gorillaz are not about to wait until the summer to unleash this thing. The night after announcing the album, they played a sold-out secret show in London where Gorillaz performed Humanz in full with almost every collaborator on the album. And those who couldn’t make it were digitally present in the form of footage that leaked. Best of all, both Gallagher and Coxon were there beside Albarn, a sight you just don’t see everyday.
This post has been updated throughout.