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Arresting ode to London

The Good, The Bad & The Queen
(Virgin Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Feb. 7, 2007
The Good, The Bad & The Queen

Review by Tony Bonyata

With a teaming of talent from vocalist / songwriter Damon Albarn (Blur / Gorillaz), bassist Paul Simonon (The Clash), drummer Tony Allen (Africa 70 / Fela Kuti) and guitarist Simon Tong (The Verve) the oft-overused term 'supergroup' certainly springs to mind for this new music-collective known as The Good, The Bad & The Queen. But despite the latter three's contributions this, in fact, turns out to be more of a vanity project for Albarn's songs to his London hometown.

Like the historic city itself, the ten-tracks that fill out this self-titled release are often bleak and gloomy, yet always charming - with many secrets and pleasant surprises to be revealed around its many corners. Produced by Danger Mouse (half of the genius behind the dynamic duo Gnarls Barkley) the album rarely breaks a sweat, which is rather surprising considering both the producer's previous work with more dance-related music and the bandmember's own history of high-energy Britpop (Albarn & Tong), percussive Afrobeat (Allen) and sociopolitically-charged punk rock (Simonon). Instead the record holds its own with Albarn's haunting and harrowing melodies as the foursome globetrot a vast musical landscape that helped shape the sounds of London in the latter part of the 20th Century; from 1950s American rock & roll ("80's Life" complete with doo-wop harmonizing) to '80s dub music ("Northern Whale," a sad tale which recalls how a lost whale in the River Thames last year became a public attraction as it was dying) to the polyrhythmic Afrofunk beats of West Africa ("Herculean" and "Three Changes") to early '70s glam rock (evident in the title track's three-and-a-half minute trail-out of instrumental mayhem - reminiscent of an Eno-era Roxy Music rave-up). Danger Mouse and the foursome deliver songs that don't leap out at you, but slowly lure you in, as witnessed on the lovely pop of "Green Fields" and "Behind The Sun," which climaxes with a swirling sea of poignant strings, as well as the melancholic "Kingdom of Doom," where the singer croons with a low Morrissey-effect over a simplistic piano-line and light washes and howls of guitar dissonance.

Thematically Albarn marries Anglo-yore with concerns of current world conflict ("I don't want to live a war that's got no end in our time," he dryly sings on "80's Life" before slipping into further despair on "Kingdom of Doom," "Drink all day 'cause the country's at war. You'll be falling off the palace walls"). But despite much of the downtrodden subject matter, it's Danger Mouse's subdued, yet lush production values coupled with both an interesting grouping of worldly musicians and songs teeming with hidden melodies playfully lurking throughout that makes this such an arresting and rewarding effort.

While it's been said it may only be a one-off project, this strong debut certainly shows a lot of promise for future releases. God save [The Good, The Bad &] The Queen.

Watch The Good, The Bad & The Queen - "Kingdom of Doom"

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