Review Summary: Damon Albarn of Blur/Gorillaz teams up with parts of The Clash, The Verve and a drumming legend. Results are nothing like the bands mentioned, but one cool album
Normally I wouldn’t be one of the first guys to check out the latest Damon Albarn project. It’s not that I never enjoyed Blur or Gorillaz but neither are bands I thought of as favorites, but nevertheless I liked them. But when I heard he was teaming up with former Clash bassist Paul Simonon for a new project I was immediately interested. So being the diehard Clash fan that I am I took the first opportunity I could to hear the new album for the newly formed band, The Good, the Bad, and The Queen. TGTB&TQ is a ‘super group’ as the term is used, featuring David Albarn, an instantly recognizable figure for Blur and then later Gorillaz, on lead vocals and keyboard and Simonon on bass as mentioned. Completing the lineup is former Verve guitarist Simon Tong and Fela Kuti drummer and Afro-beat pioneer Tony Allen. And to top it off the album is produced by Danger Mouse, who other than his own work is known for producing Gorillaz' Demon Days and more recently Gnarls Barkley's St. Elsewhere.
Although he is will go already down as a well known figure in music, Albarn still has some pretty big shoes to fill to follow up from his last album, Gorillaz’ Demon Days, which was quite the commercial success. There will always be immediate comparisons to past work and rightfully so, but while there are similarities musically of Gorillaz and the social commentary lyrics reminiscent of Blur, the album certainly doesn’t depend on nostalgia. An eclectic album of many styles and genres, this self titled debut touches upon dub, pop, rock, Britpop, art rock and electronica laced with classic pop melodies with an array of instruments, making for a truly unique, ambitious and diverse sound.
Upon first hearing the album, I was not immediately hit with catchy pop hooks say to the likes of ‘Feel Good Inc’, but rather an atmospheric, moody, and at times gloomy set of songs, in a positive way. Much of the album is in a slower, dreamy tone which adds a lot of depth to the songs, and will most likely require repeated listens for full satisfaction. History Song
, a dreary piano driven track, opens the album on a note that captures the overall feel of the album, as cliché as that sounds. Albarn’s ominous vocals fuse beautifully with the sleek acoustic guitar line and light synthesizers making for a truly cool, tranquil song. Kingdom of Doom
, the new single, is one of the albums finest moments with another acoustic guitar intro from Tong, Damon’s familiar vocals and again the piano is used dominantly. Three Changes
is one of the most experimental songs here with a mesmerizing keyboards and Allen’s free jazzy drumming. And while most of the album is low key, there is the occasional upbeat moment, like parts of the album finale and title track.
Despite not even playing for a year, they seem to have excellent chemistry, shown in their early live performances and then finally here on record. Simonon, who hasn’t played in a band since the early 90s (the forgettable Havana 3am) doesn’t seem the least rusty. His bass lines that added that reggae punch with The Clash add that element into TGTB&TQ, shown on songs such as The Bunting Song
and especially History Song
. Allen adds much of the dub/laid back feel with his drumming that shows why he is the accomplished drummer that he is. The album, like many similar, is best to listen to straightforward through, because it really has great flow although a few of the songs do sound alike. With lyrics doused in modern life in England (in fact the album is seen as a tribute to London, see title track), war (Green Fields
, Soldier’s Tale
), and surrealistic imagery, all written poetically, Damon does an impressive job on the writing.
The Good, The Bad & The Queen’s debut is really a refreshing surprise. It defies the myth (which is commonly true) that most super groups/side projects etcetera are always sub par and never live up to hype. And while fans of Blur, Gorillaz, The Clash, and The Verve all may not like this, there will be surely be something here for someone and it has the power to bring in and attract new fans. And even if this band is a one album deal as I’ve heard, it should be remembered for a good reason. The debut is a well put together piece of work, great for relaxing. As said it may not be for all everyone or may not live up to the hype to some, it’s worthy to check out if you are a fan of Albarn or atmospheric, soothing and moving music that really can’t be grouped into one genre.