Imagine fragments of classic Britpop bands -- the Clash, the Verve, and Blur -- coming together into one brilliant multifaceted supergroup. That's the Good, The Bad and the Queen,
Okay, the band technically has no name, but for purposes of clarity, I'm going to call it by their debut's name. But even without a name, this astoundingly vibrant group creates one of the best albums of the year this far -- a scintillating, gritty concept album, full of weariness and ennui.
It kicks off with a slow ponderous acoustic guitar, which slowly melts into a dark web of organ, keyboard and electric guitar. "A ship across/The estuary/Sundays lost/In melancholy," music legend Damon Albarn murmurs in his low, softly rough voice. "A storm of strings/Far away/The hangers on/Saved the day...."
That was just the buildup to the songs that follow, focused on life in London today -- thoughtful, confused, melancholy, but with a bit of hope. The songs flow alog like a rive, intertwined but distinct -- mostly slow-moving rockers wrapped in ringing and shimmering synth, plinking piano, gritty bass and little zips of sound, like dark threads.
I'm assuming Albarn and Co. wanted this to have a sort of haunted urban feel, like someone walking through London's night streets and musing on what he sees. It's that extra depth that takes "The Good, The Bad and the Queen" from a great album to a magnificent one, themed around the bittersweetness of life in modern London.
The Verve's Simon Tong and the Clash's Paul Simonon weave their ringing guitars and slightly fuzzed bass into deep, intertwined melodies, backed by some solid subtle drums by Tony Allen. Finally there's some some ripples of organ, sweeping violins, plinky piano, and undulates of dark synth. It's even more haunting that way. The instrumentation is all woven together, with this guitar or that organ slipping in and out of sound.
But as brilliant as the instrumentation is, Albarn's voice is the star of these songs. His voice is pretty smooth, but with a rough edge like someone about to cry. And in certain songs like the autumnal "Bunting Song" and the title song, he sounds like he's wearily looking back on his life and struggles.
And the lyrics are are layered and intricate as the instrumentation -- allusions to politics, war and sorrow fill it ("Ravens fly/Across the moon... There's a noise in the sky/Following all the rules/And not asking why"). But there are glimmers of hope and love too: "And I was losing it all the time/But she stayed with me and found me out and above all things I've learnt/It's that honesty that secures the bond in the heart."
"The Good, The Bad and the Queen" is a virtually flawless album by a brilliantly talented superband, who have turned out some of the darkest, deepest, most unique rock music of this year. A magnificent piece of work.