on 12 March 2007
Can anyone think of any other British artist who's come up with three albums as diverse, melodic and soulful as Parklife, Demon Days and now The Good, the Bad and the Queen? No, nor can I. It's about time that Mr Albarn was recognised as a stellar British talent who has the innate ability to capture the mood of a nation but with the crucial and clinching evidence that he has the lyrics and melodies to go with it. If anyone had any doubts, this album should dispel them.
The Good, the Bad and the Queen is a loose, lingering experience shot through with grandiose messages and gorgeous melodies. It's London's dirty dozen compiled from the dark heart of a city unsure of itself after the Iraq War and the gathering gloom of terrorism and evnvironmental catastrophe.
It's a slow-burning, suggestive album that creeps up on you rather than hits you between the eyes but eventually it triumphs into a deep, intimate piece of work that demands attention and multiple listens.
Albarn has come a long way from the shiny happy Blur days to the current status of dark star but this growth and development has been nothing short of stunning. The Good, The Bad and The Queen is up there with his best work and has a wisdom and craftiness about it that it ultimately joyful and rewarding.
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.
on 20 March 2007
Since the beginning of the new millenium, it has seemed like Damon Albarn has been concerning himself more and more less with Blur, after Think Tank it seemed Blur was on its last legs, and to add to the fact he was enjoying success behind a cartoon singer in Gorillaz. So in many ways Albarn has become the 'king of the side-project'.
Now for The Good, The Bad and The Queen, depending on your view, this can be seen as either as a solo project or a super group. Even the fact that the moniker the band had been given was not officially the group's name can make slightly misleading. Nevertheless with players such as the Verve's Simon Tong, Africa 70's Tony Allen and The Clash's Paul Simonon, it might as well be a supergroup.
But unlike say Audioslave's debut, Albarn's new project becomes more of a showcase for his latest songs, which is not bad in any way. In fact, this is probably the best stuff he's written since Parklife. Although, it must be stated the lyrical content is much more melancholy than what he sung about in 1994, which is understandable for some one who is approaching middle age. Instead nearly every song here is about the enjoyments of life and how we are blessed to be allowed this chance, with occasional war references.
The music takes on a more operatic style here, which now when I look at the 19th century cover, its easy to see where Albarn was heading with this project. Of course, produced by Danger Mouse (I swear that guy will be producing records in the afterlife) there are some hints of Gorillaz in here.
Stand out tracks include the beautiful 80's Life, the suprisingly catchy Kingdom of Doom, the life affirming Behind The Sun and the war poem A Soldier's Tale. It does take a while to get into, but in the end what you'll find is some beautifully crafted songs, and not to mention some pretty nifty drawings in the booklet by Simonon.
I suppose all thats left to ask is with all these successful projects, what will become Blur? Until an answer is given, here we can enjoy Albarn at the peak of his talents.
on 7 March 2007
Was Damon Albarn's creative split with Graham Coxon the best thing that ever happened to him? Since Albarn called time on the 1990s Blur era with a best-of compliation, Albarn has reached something of a creative peak - irreverently declaring the likes of Country House 'a joke'. He subsequently invented the Gorillaz franchise, completed Blur's best (and ultimately un-Blur-like) album Think Tank and is now firing off successful side projects. Whereas Park Life era gave Albarn the unwelcome association with the pop-cultural phenomenon of Britpop and its New Labor subsidiary Cool Britannia, this album could be construed as a hangover from that time. With its dub-tinged dolldrums, it reminds one of The Specials and The Clash in its dark evocation of London life and its wintry reflection on a 'stroppy little island of mixed up people'. A collaboration with Clash bassist Paul Simonon, Verve guitarist Simon Tong, and Fela Kuti's Tony Allen, there is a consistency in its vision of London in a period of pessimism about the Iraq war and environmental degradation: "I wrote this song ... years ago ... before the war and the tidal wave".
This is very much an album album - not a few singles and some filler - which is why it is best viewed as a whole. Its mood is sombre but it is given levity by the lightness and subtle dynamism of the production - from the Spanish guitar of The History Song to the shimmering electronics of Herculeum. There is also some fine whistling (really!) and some Enio Morricone guitar (unsurprisingly considering the name of the project) mixed into to its oppressive vision of morning-after-the-night-before metropolitan life. Sometimes Albarn's world-weary vocals grate a little in their repetitiveness, but there are enough musical surprises and inventiveness to keep the listener engaged.
What makes Albarn's current musical output so impressive is that it blends genres in a way that is fresh and experimental without sacrificing a pop sensibility. While the music industry is down a creqtive cul de sac only signing artists who imititate acts gone before, the former Blur frontman is producing music with a distinctive and authentic soul. Albarn may yet be remembered for his enormous contribution to the musical landscape of the noughties as much as he helped define the 90s. He should be.
on 23 January 2007
How good is it to have Paul Simenon back , you can feel him all the way through this album. I've only played it a couple of times but I love how the bass goes right through you. I think this is a record to be absorbed over the next couple of weeks but so far I'm loving Northern Whale, Nature Springs, and the title track but there's not a bad track on here.
on 8 February 2007
I listen to this album everywhere - walking the dog, driving to work nowhere seems inappropriate.
Echoes of Parklife interspersed with feint hints of Jah Wobble; a superb debut for what I think is the best incarnation of Daman Albarn yet.
on 31 January 2007
If anything, the brilliance of Damon Albarn lies in his ability to reinvent himself while producing music that also is evolutionary and yet relevant. Just as Albarn succeeded (at least in my humble opinion) in divorcing himself and Blur from the media-concocted Brit-Pop Wars of the mid 90s by taking that project in an unanticipated directions while continuing to create excellent music, Albarn has done the same with his latest project, The Good, The Bad, and The Queen.
Just as with Gorillaz, Damon Albarn reaches into his musical palette to create his own sound based upon a variety of influences. While many will strain to find parallels for The Good, the Band and The Queen - I've read comparisons to aspects of Sandinista by The Clash and Blur's 13 - it's the composition of the band with Albarn at its apex that renders the music unique.
The musical foundation is provided by the rhythm section of Paul Simonon Simon Tong and Tony Allen who, as one reviewer noted, provide the music with an almost dub-like quality. As a consequence, the overall mood of the CD is more one of reflection upon the images being conveyed by Albarn's lyrics.
I'll leave it to someone else to provide a track-by-track breakdown of the CD. After repeated listening, I'm still attempting to get my arms around this one, which isn't a bad thing in these days of cookie-cutter music production and interchangeable pop stars produced by such cultural abominations as American Idol.
In a nutshell, The Good, the Bad and The Queen is music to drive by, to reflect by, to absorb and to feel. Five stars.
on 12 February 2007
For all those who are true music fans. A great combination of great talent. I first saw them on the Culture Show on Beeb2 - ordered my album straight away, it arrived last week and it's just awesome.
on 27 January 2007
parklife v something different v sandinista
this album is a thing of beauty.Not a duff track and loads of attitude.
you can almost hear the group grinning at each other in the studio.
THE album of 2007
dare we hope for a follow up?
on 30 January 2007
I do not know whether to dorf my cap to Damon Albarn for being one of our generation's greatest innovators and experimentors with the release of this new side-project or whether to ask him to get back with the one-and-only Blur to produce another great album.
Albarn, as he did for the Gorillaz-project, has once again surrounded himself with a myriad of amazing and well-respected artists... who could imagine a line of Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon (Clash), Simon Tong (Verve) & Tony Allen (Keti) for The Good, the Bad & the Queen? A fascinating and intriguing concept that will, no doubt, have many commentators wondering if such a project could ever live up to expectations.
Fortunately, the album is just as fascinating and interesting as the band name and line-up! It is an album that will not reveal all its idiosyncracies, secrets & qualities within the first few listens; indeed it requires and merits perseverence. That is not to say that this album is hardwork, quite the contrary, it merely takes time to fully-appreciate the gentle, understated & soulful sounds of TGTB&TQ lamenting the "Modern Life" of Londoners & Brits alike.
Much has been said (including comments from Albarn himself) that this is the natural-successor to "Parklife" with its social & political observations woven loosley into the lyrics. However this is where the comparisons end since TGTB&TQ displays a more mature, soulful, indepth & intellectual view from a band that have travelled the globe with their own respective fame and returned to find the "snotty little island of mixed-up people" embracing their routines (both good and bad) all the while trying to resist change.
It is an understated album with Allen drumming his afro-beat with quiet, but efficient precision; Tong strums similarly; while Simonon lurks menacingly with the bass backbone behind Albarn's quirky piano-tinkerings and socio-observant lyrics, but the quietness allows the band's intensity to shine through.
If there is one criticism to be levelled at the band, it is that some of songs feel a little incomplete. Songs such as "Green Fields," "History Song" & "Kingdom of Doom" are short and shy of lyrics, thus leaving the listener with a feeling that these songs could have been developed into something more substantial. However this is only a minor grumble and does not detract from the overall listening experience on offer here. Definitely one of the records to watch for in 2007!