Retro Modern “Modern” Pick: Gorillaz “Saturnz Barz (Spirit House)” (Single)
Introduction: The Gorillaz are a fictional virtual band founded by Blur frontman Damon Albarn and graphic artist Jamie Hewlett. The group’s roster is comprised of 2D (principal vocals, keyboards), Russel Hobbs (drums, percussion), Murdoc Niccals (bass, vocals), and Noodle (lead guitar, vocals).
The Gorillaz are centered by Albarn’s musical direction, with him providing the singing voice for 2D and selecting the artists to guest alongside the band – or front it. Hewlett handles the intricate and absorbing design and storyboarding of the Gorillaz concept. Gorillaz have spanned hip-hop, funk, dance, rock, and alternative pop across four studio albums released between 2001 and 2011 on the Virgin and Parlophone labels.
After an absence of six years, the Gorillaz return with their fifth studio effort, Humanz, available April 28, 2017. The set has been preceded by the single “Saturnz Barz (Spirit House)” featuring the dancehall artist Popcaan.
Synopsis: The last record from Gorillaz, The Fall (2011), possessed a subdued and reflective tone. Some called it a dress rehearsal for the aural feel of Albarn’s underrated solo project Everyday Robots (2014, Virgin / Parlophone) that came behind The Fall. In that interim, Gorillaz fans waited for the next installment of sonic adventures from 2D, Noodle, Murdoc Niccals, and Russel Hobbs. More importantly, they wondered how they would transition into, effectively, their second decade of activity.
Their soon-to-be released LP Humanz isn’t too much of a departure from their eclectic, acerbic sound, according to the record’s first single “Saturnz Barz (Spirit House).” A midtempo, dancehall-dipped track, the song’s funk is reserved but enticing nonetheless. It will bring to mind the fare from Gorillaz (2001), Demon Days (2005), and Plastic Beach (2010). But, it doesn’t feel like a complete rehash of the notable singles from those stated efforts: “Clint Eastwood,” “Feel Good, Inc.,” and “Stylo.” Instead, “Saturnz Barz (Spirit House)” has the Gorillaz’s detached humor sounding fresh and feeling as timely as ever.
Popcaan joins the outfit on the single, his razor sharp reggae flavor syncing with the number comfortably; whether or not he is in guise as a member of the Gorillaz (most likely Murdoc?) or a featured guest depends on the listener. If the partnering music video is anything to go by, Popcaan’s vocal is most likely the disembodied ghost of the haunted house the Gorillaz stumble upon, falling prey to both its lures and frights. 2D (Albarn) handles the primary vocal on the song, his aloof, handsome singing style ever fetching.
“Saturnz Barz (Spirit House)” is delightfully weird, addictive and promises that its parent record Humanz will be yet another post-modern masterpiece—and head-scratcher—like the four albums that preceded it.
“Saturnz Barz (Spirit House)” available on Gorillaz’s forthcoming LP Humanz / Preorder via Amazon