The Good, The Bad and the Queen,
The Good, The Bad and the Queen
Supergroup is a term that's bandied around a lot these days, often quite undeservingly, I mean, Audioslave and Velvet Revolver are hardly "super" are they? You wouldn't see Slash flying around and saving old women from being mugged would you? No, not in a million years. Plus, they're rubbish. But The Good, The Bad and the Queen could quite easily take this dubious mantle, as they have in their number an Afrobeat legend alongside members of Blur, The Clash, and The Verve. To be honest, though, you wouldn't tell from the music.
The Good, The Bad and the Queen is very much Damon Albarn's album, his songs at their most undiluted. Each track is a look at London, much more mature than his mockney antics of a decade ago in Parklife, a reflection of the way both he, and the capital have changed.
A sense of impending disaster is riddled into the album, rising water being a frequently recurring motif, most succinctly put in "Kingdom of Doom", as Albarn croaks "In the flood we all get washed away" to a backdrop of "A Day in the Life" style atmospherics. Overall, you get the sense of the album representing the calm before a storm, "Northern Whale" manages to invoke both the wonder and ominous fear of seeing a sea animal stranded in the Thames wonderfully, and this restrained calm only breaks in the eponymous final track.
This consistent, controlled tone is what makes the album so interesting, it doesn't need to be visceral to be intense, all that's needed is the sense of fragile restraint and of thing about to fall apart. Getting producer-of-the-moment, Danger Mouse on board is a mixed blessing here. He proves incredibly adept at bringing out the atmospheric bleeps and noises that colour so much of the record, and the chiming organs that shine through on tracks like "History Song" and "Three Changes" are crystal clear. His main function as producer seems to be to add freshness to tracks that would otherwise be sketchy. "Behind the Sun" particularly is a rather nothing song that is salvaged by a dubby "Ghost Town" vibe.
Where Mr Mouse fails though, is in the rather over-polished sheen he gives to much of the album. Tony Allen's drums are never given the chance to break through, and are processed into anonymity. Similarly, Simon Tong's guitar is often low in the mix and functional rather than decorative. That said, Paul Simon's bass does flush much of the record with the varied tones and sounds that made London Calling such a classic.
The Good, The Bad and the Queen does have its failings, but it contains some of the best songs Damon Albarn has ever written. Sure, the Gorillaz were fun, but could any of their songs really affect you? I think the answer for most people is probably no. This record sees Albarn do some serious soul-searching and come up with a gem of an album, showing that if Blur don't make another record, it's not that big a deal.
Check out the video for Kingdom Of Doom