27 January 2014

The Good, The Bad & The Queen - The Good, The Bad & The Queen

When a new supergroup is formed, I'm always intrigued, like wanting to know who's in on the new big act, what's involved and if their musical styles are going to be any different from what we're accustomed to listening to. A supergroup is generally viewed as an entity that is greater than the sum of its parts, the band members. For me, the first real supergroup was Cream in the mid 1960s with three musicians having already cut their teeth with previous acts and building their musical credentials. So, who are these "new kids" in town? First of all, there's a certain Damon Albarn (no introduction necessary, but for those of you outside the UK, he's the brains behind Blur and Gorillaz), Paul Simonon (The Clash bassist) and Simon Tong (guitarista of The Verve), so already quite an eclectic lineup. If only it were that simple...

In a proverbial fit of rage after I may have scoffed at his undiminished hatred for Albarn, The Editor has given me this one to review as punishment. That's as maybe, but I certainly don't abhor him passionately. However, that isn't to say I am a big fan either as really he's not done too much to tickle my keen ear. The pronounced Essex/Cockney accent is somewhat exhaustive and some albums of his making (Leisure, Parklife and The Great Escape) I have listened to but not many songs I enjoyed, save perhaps for his semi-instrumental, Sing. The other personnel, like Simonon I do rate after his dexterous basswork on the brilliant London Calling album, while by the same token, Tong's known for an act that came up with a string filled anthem in Bittersweet Symphony that didn't cut the mustard with me.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen is only the name of their sole album to date, and NOT the band. It goes without saying that Albarn and Co. couldn't think of a title, but I get the impression that we're settled on calling them after this record. First track, History Song is not a bad tune, simple dexterity and classical guitar hooks rubbing shoulders with some paintbrush drumming. Northern Whale is a curious tune though. Sounds like the percussion's been done on a Stylophone (I really don't like it) with DA's keyboard efforts resembling Soft Cell or Jean Michel Jarre synthesizer. It runs reasonably well I admit, but there's a feeling of tedium in the lyrics and the yawn filled drones, likewise in Kingdom Of Doom although the spangly guitarwork between the Cream-era and acoustics does enough to stop me from losing my attention.

So far from a lyrical perspective, the album has been, well, boring, as Albarn doesn't do boombastic, likewise in Herculean, but I do like his piano work, and the harmonic backdrops I really find enchanting. Quite a few strings involved in it too which in the Britpop era 10 years earlier it would've been dismissed as too Verve-y. Thankfully not the case and the cellos and violins are very well arranged. Then it's Behind The Sun, with the influences of Simonon's Clash track Ghetto Defendant ringing true in my ears. I'm still trying to avoid the mundane vocals as they really the weakest link here on THTBATQ so far and even the bleeps in The Bunting Song don't do any real justice to what could be an extraordinary album. However, they feature much better along with some good fingerwork on the nylon strings and again, it's the choral talents in the bridges of Nature Springs that for me are the winners.

Good effort by Tony Allen on the drumming of Three Changes and finally(!) DA's decided to hit a 'D' in the next octave. Given all the low notes he's been warbling so far, I swear he'd make Johnny Cash sound like a soprano! The song itself does feel a bit discordant and plucked from the attic where it's been gathering dust, while the next tune Green Fields is brief but again, it never gets going at all. Fortunately with the final and title track, it does have a rockier edge and some Honky Tonk ivories as well as violins combine comfortably as the pace increases, but EVER so slightly.

It takes a while for the album to get out of second gear and on the whole, there's a distinct air of rustic noise that stays with THTBATQ right throughout. My biggest concern is that Damon Albarn just doesn't apply a good vocal conviction to the album. It's just that it seems his larynx has taken out a year in the garden, it feels so drawled and has he really forgotten how to put his heart and soul in the wording? I still don't hate him, anywhere near as Eddie Carter, but all those minus points are just too much to get The Good, The Bad & The Queen onto the next level. Such a great shame, as I wanted to like this, and bearing in the mind the musical pedigree of his backing crew too.

6 out of ten. Now I see where you were going, but not quite there.
Best track : Herculean.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen Official Website on this link
Buy the album or as MP3 here on Amazon
Listen to it here on Spotify

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