Let’s dive right back in with the latter half of Humanz by the Gorillaz! If you missed it, here’s part one.
As always, I don’t know which card I’m going to get for each song. I write about each song and then flip a card over. That’s when you see the image.
Busted and Blue
This is 2D’s song on the album, the only completely straight Gorillaz piece on it. The space imagery returns again, with 2D saying he’s a satellite. He continues to be distant, out in space. The reference to Virgil is an oddity. To “refer to Virgil” in medieval manuscripts meant to study magic, as he was considered one of the first recorders of magical practice. He’s also one of the forefathers of classical poetry and history, for which he’s better known now. Because of Dante, he’s known as a guide through Hell, too. It’s the image Virgil made that’s important — it rules over us and amplifies the sirens (which is, in turn, probably a pun on warning sirens and the Sirens of Greek myth). So what the hell, guys?
10 of Cups
The ten of cups is about total happiness — but happiness at an end. The cycle is over and a new one is about to begin. This makes sense in context of the entire album: one half (“side”) is over and the second half is about to begin. This song is a counter-point to “We Got the Power” at the end of the album. It’s sad and lonely, whereas “Power” is triumphant and about togetherness. Maybe the card reminds us that happiness emerges as soon as we come together, and that, if we reverse it, happiness eludes us when we are alone. The more isolated attempts at happiness earlier in the album lead to this song. It’s the end result of pleasure-seeking without substance in a world with so much hate in it.
Carnival (feat. Anthony Hamilton)
This song, in turn, is about people trying to find happiness together by withdrawing from the world. The singer will “keep you satisfied while they rob us blind.” The carnival game is, as usual, a freaky and frightening experience, disorienting and dizzying. We are “played” like carnival games by the world we live in .
This card is the wordly king. He sets the rules, enforces them, and punishes those who go against it. In a good world, with a good king, that would be fantastic. In a bad world, with a mad king, it’s chaos. Nothing makes sense because the king’s word is supposed to be not just law, but reality. The king treats everything like a game, like they can spin the wheel when they want and then refuse to let anyone else go.
Basically, this song depicts the world now. That’s just great.
Let Me Out (feat. Mavis Staples and Pusha T)
This is the other big deal song for me on the album. It’s not messing around. It’s the voice of rebellion, crying out from underneath oppression. It features Mavis Staples, too, coming in as that female voice that recurs throughout the album as the “mother,” the woman who knows the world.
This song functions between three people. Pusha T is the desperate innocent, threatened by those who are supposed to protect him, lied to by authority figures. Mavis Staples is that wise woman, advising Pusha T the only truths: money works and change comes.
Albarn’s nautical radio voice splices in between the two of them, eerie as always. He affirms that times are changing but that he won’t get tired, he can continue to act. The change is something he feared, but it’s just changing form, not substance. The evil persists. There’s only one way to respond in that case.
The Tower is traditionally a card of change, precipitous and often violent. Most people think it depicts the Tower of Babel, and that’s probably influencing this card. However, the oldest tarot cards probably depicted not Babel but a tower at the gates of Hell. It’s from medieval passion plays, basically. Poor sinners would lean out the tower, begging for help. Christ appeared to rive the gates of Hell, destroying the tower in the process. So it actually depicts a tower falling to the freedom of those inside, not the confounding of them.
So change may be fearful, and the entities Albarn fears are still there, but the change is one for good, though we have to fall out of the high place we’d been imprisoned first.
Sex Murder Party (feat. Jamie Principle and Zebra Katz)
This song is certainly the low point of the album, and very reminiscent of what we know about Murdoc. It depicts someone in the throes of cynicism, looking for something to distract them.
The song gets weird and prophetic when it talks about driving and dissolving kids “in tears of your priority.” The speaker cannot escape the cycle of murder and violence. The song ends in the bathroom, cocaine all over the place, with the singer learning hatred. If the change has to come, this song may depict what is changing or, at least, those who are at the top and most in need of defenestration.
This seems like a very odd card to get here. The Lovers is actually not usually a romantic card. That’s the Two of Cups, especially. The Lovers is about union, a binary uniting to create something new. It’s about synthesis. And that means the song is an important reminder: any attempt to move past atrocities can’t work if we forget about them. We have to incorporate them into ourselves, into our memory and our consciences. We have to synthesize them with our higher hopes and dreams so we can create something lasting and powerful. I guess I don’t really have to say this, but consider the ways people in the developed world try to behave as though our atrocities are behind us, part of some history hermetically sealed “in the past.” That allows the crap to keep flowing, because we’re not synthesizing the bad things along with the good things. Sure, everyone can voice their opinions now, but we didn’t get any better, so naturally that’s going to be used to oppress people. That synthesis is what was necessary to prevent future shit.
She’s My Collar (feat. Kali Uchis)
This is a fun duet that likens a lover to a collar. It’s an interesting metaphor, based partly in the old misogynistic image of a wife as a “ball and chain.” But collars do things other than restrain. They train and they adorn. There’s also a verbal pun, where she is also a “caller” and a “color,” so she calls out to the speaker and she marks out divisions — when she speaks for herself, the first thing she says is that he’s blue and she’s yellow. They agree in some way.
I’m tempted to point out they combine to make green.
I guess I just did.
The song is about a partnership I think, and the ways in which a relationship should be like one. We all do more than one thing for our partner. This song uses that old tradition of talking about how amazing the girlfriend makes the boyfriend (see like, every Train song), but it’s more than that — mostly because she gets to speak too.
The Wheel always indicates change, that it’s inevitable and natural. This one is very traditional, depicting the four quarters as Christian emblems of the forces of God. The Sphinx is a mystery and sits behind the wheel itself. In every relationship things turn and change in a cycle. One day Bob will keep John sane, and the next John will keep Bob from losing his mind. I think the card supports the idea that the song itself is about supporting each other in a relationship in terms more than romantic. Keeping each other grounded while providing the freedom to shift in color and aspect is a very powerful image of a relationship.
Hallelujah Money (feat. Benjamin Clementine)
Here’s our apocalyptic preacher man, protecting money by building walls — walls like those at Jericho, which exist only to fall down. The song overtly tells listeners to throw away morals for money, so I think we found the canker at the center of the world, according to this song. It’s pretty pointed and obvious. I’m not sure I have anything intelligent to add here.
There is 2D/Albarn wondering how we’ll know if we’re still human. That reminds me of an old William Gibson axiom: the rich fundamentally aren’t human any longer; they’re something else, something with health and resources no actual human being has ever had access to before. See the entirety of Count Zero.
Well isn’t that just fantastic. It really is a magic trick, transforming ethics into money. But that’s what’s happened — and happened long ago. It’s not modern world curse making us equate money to righteousness. It’s the legacy of Protestantism. Very early on, Protestantism, and particularly Puritanism, equated worldly success with spiritual success. So rich people must also be good people. This is obviously bullshit, but lots of people fucking believe it. Fame stands in for money sometimes now, and if you think of that, you see the whole thing unroll in front of you: So-and-So couldn’t possibly have done something bad, because they’re famous. Until, of course, the other side of capitalism comes in and throws them down.
Anyway. Hallelujah money. It’s the will of the rich moving in the realm of the righteous.
We Got the Power (feat. Jehnny Beth)
In contrast to the entire latter half of the album, here is our hope. Our dreams and our collective passion for life will save us. Bells ring out and we hear that we’re indestructible. We can, if we choose, reach up and touch the great bell, the holy and healing power above us that will bring us all together. Bells are serious magic.
I’m not joking. Have trouble meditating but would like to a little more? Buy a little clear-voiced bell and put it somewhere handy. If you’re too distracted or angry or in your head, ring the bell once and really listen to it until it fades away. It calls to us. There’s a reason churches stuck them in the belfries.
I love this song and I don’t know if I can add anything to it? It’s open and clear about what it wants to say. Love one another, find your power in your circle of humanity instead of your isolation.
Queen of Cups
When it comes to powerful, strong loving, the Queen of Cups is it. She is strong in her sea, floating before a fertile island and holding a cup with mysteries of love within it. The queens combine air with their suit element, so this is air and water — the mobile elements, and a combination of emotion and intellect. Bend your intellect to shaping your emotions. Choose to love, and love with a powerful love, not a passive love. Love the kind of love that protests injustice and shrieks against power. Do not tire, do not waver, but sink back into the love of the world when you need it.
Don’t give up. The machine, the sex murder party, is arrayed against you. Children are imprisoned, corruption fills the land. But it’s love that defeats that — but not the love of sitting at home and being happy. It’s the kind of love that leads people to rise up and to take to the streets.