Many cartoons run for a very long time, but only one cartoon band has such a long-term plot. Gorillaz, whose early shtick was cooked up by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett back in the late 1990s, and who with this release are on their fifth album, now have a heavyweight cast of past and present collaborators to shout about.
Humanz is a remarkable tribute to Albarn's ability to coax people to add a few lines to the bigger canvas. Grace Jones, Noel Gallagher, Vince Staples, De La Soul, D.R.A.M., Rag'n'Bone Man, Pusha T, Kelela, Danny Brown, Popcaan, Jehnny Beth, Mavis Staples and more have answered the call on this occasion. (Indeed, the presence of so many US hip-hop names is testament to their genre's fondness for "featuring" credits.)
Their voices contribute to an album that probably leans least towards mainstream pop of any Gorillaz release. Albarn's fondness for melancholy and melody means each track packs a punch with both its hook and its general demeanour, but these are aligned to sound clashes from disco to dancehall. Be it the magnificent swagger on Ascension, the way Strobelite makes its presence felt, Grace Jones's stellar contribution to Charger or the full-on clatter from Danny Brown and Kelela on Submission, this is a record made with the groove in mind.
More than anything, though, it's an example of Albarn's musical brain working at full pelt. Between solo albums, African music escapades and the ongoing Blur fandango, he's covered a lot of ground with much elan elsewhere. Yet Humanz shows he can also have the craic when it comes to making pop music with hip hop and R&B on the list of ingredients. A man for all seasons.