Thursday, February 08, 2007

CD: "The Good, The Bad & The Queen"

I have an image of Damon Albarn (frontman of Blur and Britpop super-group The Good, The Bad & The Queen, and the creator of Gorillaz) as a man who is unable to sit still. This image is reinforced by his powerful cockney phrasing, his rabid piano playing, and the wide terrain of music that he manages to cross with the rest of TGTB&TQ on this eponymous debut.

The high production values of the record, courtesy of Dangermouse, make these rich and luxuriously baroque compositions blend in vibrant and rewarding ways, although what ultimately holds the album back short of greatness is Albarn's creativity. With the exception of the hyper-ballad of instruments on the title track, and a few short but memorable acoustic riffs on the first half of the album, the sound isn't very catchy and the lyrics, lost in gloom and doom, fall far flatter than the uplifting musical experiments. For all that, TGTB&TQ have former Clash bassist Paul Simonon propelling tracks like "History Song" through the pipes with reggae influences and a liberal use of dub technique; there's rarely a chance to catch one's center of gravity. As a result, most of the songs (especially the solar sound of "Baby Bunting") wind up floating in zero-G; lovely, but inaccessible.

Here's the catch: this is still a great album, moody and atmospheric (perhaps a little too much), and though there are many sections that come across as premeditated jams, the first six tracks of this album are some wild tunes. Tony Allen, who is supposedly the best drummer in the world, is horribly underused, and Simon Tong, guitarist from The Verve, is caught in backup, which stifles his acoustic talents. The latter part of the album starts to drift in and out of itself, with natural doubles like "Nature Springs" and "Soldier's Song" lulling the audience into an inattentive bliss. Far better to be surprised by the doo-wop that suddenly cuts into "'80s Life" or to enjoy the techno B-sides of a Gorillaz's album in "Northern Whale."

As for Albarn's political lyrics, they enhance the quality of tracks like "Kingdom of Doom" and "Herculean"; their only problem is their infrequency. There aren't any choruses, and no catchy jingles, which is either a parable for life or just another example of Albarn's restlessness. In any case, if you're looking for some slow, experimentally-driven rock (think Radiohead), and if you like any of Albarn's previous work, this is a rich soundscape for you to delve into.

[First posted to Silent Uproar, 2/2]

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