The Good, The Bad and The Queen
There is also something very different about The Good, The Bad and The Queen. On paper, this has the sound of the dreaded “super-group”, a famous bloke and his famous mates getting together to make music just because they can. However, it doesn’t come across that way at all. In its truest sense, this is collaboration, and you get the feeling that Damon did not choose to work with Simonen, Tong and Allen just because he thought it would be cool. You get the feeling that the band has been assembled because he believed that these were the people with the talents and creativity needed to achieve the tone he was searching for. This has resulted in an album that sounds full of weariness, melancholy, lilting with a sad cynicism.
Also, there is something very special about the quality of the songs. Albarn comes across as a deeply dissatisfied citizen of Britain, tired of the country and the policies of its government. However, his words are not merely protest songs. Through his lyrics he manages to depict the emotional resonance behind the issues. Rather than just relating the problems, he digs deep into his psyche and illustrates how he feels. Being Albarn, comparisons with Blur are inevitable, and certain parallels can be drawn. Vocally, he draws upon the atmosphere created in songs such as Death of a Party, or 1992 from 13.
Had these songs been recorded some 15 years ago, they would not have sounded out of place along b-sides such as Luminous, or Peach. They would have sounded rather thin, and very much of the time. This is where the secret weapon comes into play – the production of Danger Mouse, which elevates the album, impeccably mixed, sounding retro but not a parody of its contemporaries. It has an organic quality, miles away from the processed crunch of guitars we sadly hear all too often these days. The bass rattles and reverberates, the drums often strangely muted but still making a presence. Tong’s guitar work is also understated, but never fails to impress.
Despite the despair and the sense of doom, it is an album that grows in optimism towards its conclusion. It just happens to take a journey of hopelessness to get there. Herculean is an apocalyptic warning, told after the event, speaking of a slow insidious death where “everyone is on their way to heaven… slowly”. Kingdom of Doom also smothers like a veil of blackness, awash with howls of feedback and a downbeat but glorious bass line from Simonen. The Bunting Song is a particular favourite, with a nursery rhyme keyboard rhythm as it slowly unwinds.
The album closes with a triumphant trio, starting with Three Changes. Its shuffles and shimmies with some fine drumming from Allen and an echo heavy bass, amid the bleep of space communication and the jittery organs. Green Fields is more pastoral, with a powerful vocal from Albarn, leading into the title track that closes the album. This song is simply outstanding, from the opening piano chords heralding in a form of hope, where “the sun came out of the clouds, and charged up the satellites”. The peak it reaches at the end is a wonderful moment, a furious rush to the finish.
I think with this release we need to look beyond what at face value seems like a super-group. There are no indulgences here. As collaboration they have created a powerful piece of work, which manages to vocalise the opinions and moods of life in 2007 Britain. That alone will make it an album which deserves to be held in high regard, not just in the present, but also in the years to come.