History has repeated itself. After a new album, Gorillaz followed it up with a smaller-scale one about a year later. After the polarizing Humanz was released, front man Damon Albarn decided to reduce the number of collaborators for the new release The Now Now, much like The Fall before it. However, The Now Now definitely has a bit more polish than that album, but how does it compare to Humanz? This question popped into my head after I listened to The Now Now, and it was actually more complicated of an answer than I initially thought it would. You want to know why? Well, read on!
I’m going to be comparing these two albums on five factors: artwork/visuals, production, instrumentals, vocals, and how they work as albums. Let’s begin.
This one’s pretty close. The promotional artwork created for both of these albums look almost identical, and Jamie Hewlett did a great job with it. The Now Now sees Murdoc imprisoned in favor of former Gangreen Gang leader Ace (yes, really). That’s about the only noticeable difference. What I’m really interested in talking about here are the music videos/visualizers and album art. For Humanz, videos were released for “Saturnz Barz” and “Strobelite.” The former uses two-dimensional animation, which looks great, and the setting is a cool excuse to throw weird stuff at us. It is also cool that they made a VR version.
As for “Strobelite,” there is live action footage of guest singer Peven Everett and several others, and the band members are rendered in CGI. They’ve looked great in CGI before (“Stylo,” “DoYaThing”), but here it looks weird. It’s like an awkward mix of blending in and sticking out. It’s cel-shaded but it’s trying to be realistic at the same time, resulting in PlayStation 2 quality visuals. The motion capture on the band members, specifically 2-D and Noodle’s dancing, cracks me up, too.
Oh, I forgot to mention “Hallelujah Money.” I don’t like to talk about that video. The 2-D puppet shadow is cool, but that’s about all I have to say about it. The original upload is privated on YouTube, and I’m assuming it’s like that now to avoid a copyright strike from Viacom due to a certain sea creature’s appearance in the ending. There’s re-uploads out there, though.
The Now Now’s lead single, “Humility,” gets back to basics. Once again, it has live action shots, but the band is two-dimensional once again. They actually blend with real life pretty well here. I mean they’re obviously not really there and it’s no Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but it looks good. That Jack Black cameo is also good fun.
Both albums also had visualizers for several songs, which you’ll see throughout this blog post.
Lastly, let’s talk about the album artwork. Humanz shows the band in a photo-realistic manner, but I’m sorry, it looks weird. The Now Now shows a warped image of 2-D playing a guitar with light blue and pink. The pink shadow actually reminds me of the cover of the “Tomorrow Comes Today” EP.
WINNER: The Now Now
I have several issues with Humanz, but the songs’ production is not one of them. While several songs may sound generic, they sound polished. The Now Now is more interesting musically, which I’ll explain why later, but at times there can be a little too much going on. This is evident in the closing minute of “Tranz” and the second half of “One Percent.” They can be a little overwhelming.
Humanz as a whole has a melancholy vibe to it, which for the most part suits the songs well. While I may not be too big on “Carnival” or “Hallelujah Money,” they definitely have a cool sound to them, if not generic. The album is well-produced all-around.
I’m just going to say it, Humanz is Gorillaz’ most mainstream sounding album yet. That shouldn’t inherently be a bad thing, but several songs just sound generic and boring. “Andromeda” and “Submission” are huge examples of this. The album’s most interesting sounds usually come from the rap songs. “Let Me Out,” “Momentz,” and “Ascension” have some pretty sick beats that Pusha T, De La Soul, and Vince Staples respectively lay down some bars to. Another album highlight is “Charger,” which is the only song on the album where the guitar truly pops.
The Now Now, however, feels more lively. The bland samples are mostly gone in favor of more energetic ones. In addition, the guitar is utilized in several more tracks than in Humanz, like “Humility,” “Souk Eye,” and “Idaho.” The latter one specifically was a huge breath of fresh air.
WINNER: The Now Now
Damon Albarn is a great singer, and he does great on both albums. Humanz has his voice get kind of lost with the generic instrumentals at times. “Andromeda” is one of the group’s most boring songs to me with its standard lyrics and beat, even though Albarn is great. His voice sticks out more on some songs though, most notably “Busted and Blue.” Most of the album’s vocals that pop comes from the collaborators. Vince Staples, Peven Everett, Popcaan, De La Soul, Grace Jones, Anthony Hamilton, and Jehnny Beth all perform fantastically, even though the quality of the lyrics and songs themselves vary. Albarn and Popcaan complement each other quite well on “Saturnz Barz,” and Hamilton has a nice voice. However, a few collaborators kind of fall flat. Pusha T has a standard performance on “Let Me Out,” Benjamin Clementine’s performance feels just odd and Danny Brown and Kelela on “Submission” just don’t stand out. I feel bad for saying that, since I know that they’re all talented.
The Now Now returns the focus to Albarn, and his singing is more passionate here. With more thought-provoking lyrics and more energetic music, his vocals emote more. “Humility,” “Sorcererz,” and “Fire Flies” are highlights because of this. The track “Hollywood” also boasts appearances from Jamie Principle and Snoop Dogg. Snoop does a good job, and Principle’s role has more flavor than his role in Humanz’ “Sex Murder Party” did. It’s a more solid package overall.
WINNER: The Now Now
HOW THEY WORK AS ALBUMS
Humanz as an album doesn’t flow very well. It seems like the songs in it work better on their own. Again, this shouldn’t be an issue, but since every song has a different singer, it gets kind of distracting. Yes, there have been great Gorillaz songs with little to no Damon Albarn singing (“Rock the House,” “Double Bass,” “Glitter Freeze”), but those albums balanced those with Albarn’s songs pretty well. Gorillaz and Demon Days were primarily Albarn’s albums, but Plastic Beach balanced him and the guests pretty dang well. Humanz just lets the guests take the spotlight. Even though many of them are great, they’re different styles end up creating a confusing flow. Also, there’s one glaring problem that I haven’t talked about until now: the interludes. The only two that I think fit are “Intro: I Switched My Robot Off,” since it leads into “Ascension” well, and “Interlude: Penthouse,” since it leads into “Sex Murder Party” well. Even then, it could’ve just been put in the beginning of that song, rather than dedicate a track space to it. The others completely disrupt the flow of the album. Several of them feature the same voice, and given some songs’ political themes, I’m assuming they’re referencing President Donald Trump. He just spouts confusing dialogue in a voice that’s seemingly designed to be obnoxious. Another has an auto tuned Steve Martin sample. That’s what a Gorillaz album should always have. They’re just pointless, even though I like how they sound unsettling like some of the album’s songs. If you want to listen to an album that does interludes right, listen to Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age. It has a theme that actually enhances the album, rather than distract from it.
The Now Now doesn’t have as many songs, but it’s a more solid package overall. I’d only call one song from it boring, whereas there’s about five or six boring songs on Humanz. Even “Idaho,” which sounds different from the other songs on the album, doesn’t distract from the album too much. It’s a more energetic album, the singing is better, and the instrumentals have more variety. While Humanz is by no means a bad album, its shortcomings are just too distracting.
WINNER: The Now Now
I know that in my Top 10 Gorillaz Songs article that I made Humanz out to be mediocre, but after listening to it again, that’s not the case. It has several great songs, and Gorillaz’ past records had some mediocre songs too. It’s just that mediocre songs are in a higher quantity here. The Now Now is simply more consistent. Before I go, I’m going to list my top 5 favorite songs from both of these albums.
#2: “Busted and Blue”
#3: “Saturnz Barz”
#4: “Ticker Tape” (Deluxe Edition exclusive)
THE NOW NOW:
#1: “Fire Flies”
#5: “Souk Eye”
MAC TWITTER: @M_American_C
MY TWITTER: @ChaseIsDaAce
Thanks for reading! All YouTube clips uploaded and owned by Gorillaz.