The London four-piece has been on a wild ride since we last saw them. After the war of Plastic Beach, the group was split: Murdoch Niccals was captured and held captive in the dungeons below Abbey Road Studios by record label EMI until he agreed to write a new record, drummer Russell Hobbs was mistaken for Korean Godzilla and was captured and showcased in Pyongyang’s city square before his eventual return to London, and Noodle unleashed and then killed an evil shape-shifting demon while oyster diving in a small Japanese fishing village. Meanwhile, singer 2-D took a gap year weaving bracelets at beach raves in Mexico before reuniting with the rest of the band and creating their fourth genre-bending album, Humanz.
Band creators Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett are leaning more heavily on their hip hop influences than ever before. The eerie, interstellar Saturn Barz incorporates trap beats with an infectious autotuned verse from dancehall stalwart Popcaan, while album opener Ascension proffers a lyrical bombardment from Chicago rapper Vince Staple on top of a pulsating beat, laced between a dreamy interlude from 2-D. On Let Me Out, his vocal swirls between soul legend Mavis Staple’s hook and rapper Pusha T’s silky-smooth verses.
There’s a tasty slice of pop-funk pie courtesy of the ethereal Grace Jones on Charger, and deep house moments materialise on the heaving Momentz and impassioned We Got The Power, the latter featuring Savage’s lead lady Jehnny Beth and an uncredited chorus from Noel Gallagher.
At 22 tracks long, the album is an expansive concoction; it’s thought-provoking, abrasive, provocative, catchy – a pace-setter for all those who continue to chase the world’s leading virtual band.
Humanz is out on April 28 on vinyl, deluxe vinyl, CD and deluxe CD via Warner.