While Gorillaz could be said to provide a bright snapshot of the global pop zeitgeist, with all that Post-Modernist genre-blending and irony, Damon Albarn's latest project operates on a more personal scale, offering a more detailed focus on a smaller region. This is the bohemian enclave of west London that serves as home to both Albarn and Paul Simonon, roused from his easel to take up the bass again; though it's possible that this area, with its mix of races and cultures, represents the country as a whole.
Indeed, with its elegaic tone, The Good, the Bad and the Queen might be considered a belated, more melancholy follow-up to the social observation of early Blur albums like Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife. "It's not a nostalgic play on Englishness," Albarn has claimed. "It's more about what I think it is to be English now."
The mood is set by the opening "History Song", a recollection of "Ships across the estuary/Sundays lost in melancholy", before the gentle bed of sliding acoustic guitar, organ and subtle drums collapses in on itself. Tracks such as "80s Life", "Kingdom Of Doom" and "Green Fields" develop further the wistful tone of regret for lost places and principles. As he gazes across the city Albarn notes how the green fields have turned into stone. Not that this album is infused with the hustle and bustle of the city: it's a much more thoughtful portrait the band is painting, tapping into something deeper and less sharply defined about London.
Musically, the album is a peculiar blend of disparate elements complicated by the band's habit of building a song from separate blocks of riffs. In some cases, the nuts and bolts show too much; in others, a song will struggle to establish a clear identity, hopping animatedly from riff to riff. Many, like "80s Life", are built on Albarn's repetitive piano chords, hammered out with the gusto of a pub knees-up - part Fifties retro-R&B, part English music-hall. Simonon's basslines reflect his dub interests more than his punk background, loping along with a languid muscularity, while former Verve guitarist Simon Tong furnishes a wide range of textures, from acoustic arpeggios to stealthy lead lines and shards of treated guitar noise. But it's Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen who's the star player: where one might have expected forceful, driving African rhythms, he plays complex, jazzy figures in a quiet, understated manner that doesn't overpower the subtle songs, but helps glue them together more firmly.
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