The Good, the Bad, and the Queen (Virgin)

cd_goodbadHaving assembled a diversely talented group of musicians in the Clash's Paul Simonon (bass), the Verve's Simon Tong (lead guitar), Afrobeat specialist Tony Allen (drums), and the production of Danger Mouse, Albarn never seems to fully engage any of them.

 

 

 

 

Considering the landscape of modern music, the artists with critical credibility, and those who possess the ability to appeal to a mass audience, none are as prolific or consistently successful as Damon Albarn. Two years from the heels of the reinvented success that was Gorillaz' peak, Demon Days, Albarn has once again presented a new identity, this time in the music hall meets sullen club "project" (Albarn insists this is not a band) that is the Good, the Bad, and the Queen. The self-titled album is by no means a masterpiece, yet the singer/songwriter seems intent on proving his vast eclecticism, and once again he succeeds, if only to a "good" extent.

Having assembled a diversely talented group of musicians in the Clash's Paul Simonon (bass), the Verve's Simon Tong (lead guitar), Afrobeat specialist Tony Allen (drums), and the production of Danger Mouse, Albarn never seems to fully engage any of them. The Good, the Bad, and the Queen may masquerade as a mild supergroup effort, yet it is clearly an Albarn solo album. Outside of the title-track closer, all of the songs are tidy pop efforts, albeit skillfully crafted, deep ocean ballads through and through. The vocals are as mysterious and beautiful as ever, and the music's influences span from the baroque echoes of the dampest cathedral to the soft dubs of trendy night clubs. Lyrically, Albarn strays from whimsy or vagaries, opting for simplicities and repetition, a device that truly advances the quirky thematic gloom. On "Three Changes," he seems to lend a voice to modern, British blues, singing "Today is dull and mild/ On a stroppy little island/ Of mixed up people."

If you're not careful, this album can be downright depressing. The sleepy whistles of "Nature Springs" cross with creaky violin as Albarn laments, "Nature springs are caught in a war/ Imperious demands are the local law/ It is dragging us down to the emperor's gate/ Everyone's a submarine/ Looking for a dream far away." This can't be what Londoners want to hear in the winter. At least the album's single "Herculean" provides a splinter of hope. As filtered, megaphone vocals clear the path for minimalist piano, Armageddon is shrugged off by the kind words, "it's not too late for you." Hooray for that.

Where The Good, the Bad, and the Queen succeeds the most is in the lighthearted regret of "Behind the Sun," a playful, reverberating number with the rare glimpse of positive imagery. This is not to say that all must be sunny and breezy. Yet, Albarn's expansive abilities can be muddied by his blind faith in "the project." It's difficult to imagine anyone listening to this album and not admiring the group's success in capturing the desired tone. However, a few musical counterpoints to this album's many lyrical troughs may have resulted in a more active listening experience. B- | Dave Jasmon

RIYL: Damon Albarn (duh), Syd Barrett, Gruff Rhys on depressants

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