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The Good, The Bad & The Queen - LP review

The Good, The Bad & The Queen

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

YOU have to hand it to Blur frontman Damon Albarn – he seems to have the magical ability to succeed in whatever he turns his considerable talents towards.

Having achieved fantastic success with his last side project, Gorillaz, he has now put together The Good, The Bad & The Queen, a new band featuring himself, Paul Simonon (of The Clash), Tony Allen (Africa 70 / Fela Kuti) and Simon Tong (The Verve).

They began life in the Aphrodisia Studios in Nigeria in 2004, when Albarn and guitarist Tong had travelled to Lagos to record with veteran drummer and Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen. Working with local musicians, the trio recorded an album’s worth of material.

Back in England, Damon gave the recordings to producer Brian ‘DangerMouse’ Burton and the result is a record that traces a journey from the English music hall tradition, over to West Africa for Afrobeat, zigzagging through the West Indies and its reggae and dub, back to England and London’s punk scene.

The result, as the journey suggests, is much less radio friendly than the Britpop breeze of Blur, or the hip-hop/dance crossover of Gorillaz. It’s actually quite sombre. Yet it’s also deeply affecting on several occasions.

Just as he did with another one-off project, Mali Music and its standout moment Sunset Coming On, Albarn has crafted some utterly enchanting songs that are capable of reaching any number of listeners.

Take the excellent taster single that emerged last year, Herculean, a shuffling blend of sombre piano keys, low-key beats and Albarn’s melancholy vocals. It’s a shimmering effort that transcends its brooding roots to emerge as something quite inspiring (courtesy of lyrics such as “it all gets better when life is straight”).

The reggae and dub influence is evident on another favourite, Behind The Sun, which again features more strained vocals from Albarn – this time achingly fragile during the verses. It’s a more stripped down offering than a lot of the tracks on offer but it quietly creeps into your subconscious and refuses to budge.

Opening track History Song is constructed around a compelling central guitar riff and yet another haunting vocal from Albarn that eventually gives way into a lively beat and organ. And ‘80s Life drops an outstanding music hall piano intro that hooks you immediately with its gentle audacity. Both tracks are evidence of an artist who clearly isn’t afraid to diversify or stretch himself.

Another firm favourite is Soldier’s Tale, a sad lament from a trooper that features another strikingly simple guitar riff and a haunting whistle. The lyrics, too, are really worth listening to – poignant to the point of being tear-jerking.

And Green Fields and title track The Good, The Bad & The Queen close things out in confident style – the latter, especially, featuring a stunning piano intro that drifts nicely into the rest of proceedings.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen may profess to be a super-group of sorts, but it’s first and foremost about Albarn’s talent and vision. It’s well worth taking the time to discover, even if it’s not always as accessible as some of his other projects.

Download picks: Herculean, ’80s Song, Soldier’s Tale, Behind The Sun, The Good, The Bad & The Queen

Track listing:

  1. History Song
  2. 80’s Life
  3. Northern Whale
  4. Kingdom Of Doom
  5. Herculean
  6. Behind The Sun
  7. The Bunting Song
  8. Nature Springs
  9. A Soldier’s Tale
  10. Three Changes
  11. Green Fields
  12. The Good, The Bad & The Queen