The Good, The Bad and The Queen
The Good, the Bad & the Queen, a quartet comprised of Damon, Clash bassist Paul Simonon, Verve guitarist Simon Tong, and Tony Allen, Fela Kuti's drummer, who was name-checked in Blur's "Music Is My Radar," and whose eponymous 2007 album is produced by Danger Mouse, who previously collaborated with Albarn on Gorillaz's second album, 2005's Demon Days. it is a cousin to Parklife in how it captures a national mood, but in sheer sonic terms, the closet antecedent of Albarn's is Demon Days, which traced out an apocalyptic vision despite its insistent pop hooks. Which isn't to say that The Good, the Bad & the Queen is a Gorillaz album in disguise, nor should Simonon's presence suggest that this is the second coming of London Calling; if anything, GBQ suggest the Specials at their most haunted, which is hardly uncharacteristic of Damon, who has always used "Ghost Town" as a blueprint whenever he's wanted to get spooky.
Despite these echoes of the past -- and there are other echoes, too, arriving in Simonon's thundering dub bass, Tong's spectral guitars, Allen's nimble rhythms, and Albarn's vaudevillian piano and carnivalesque organ -- The Good, the Bad & the Queen is most certainly its own distinctive thing, the product of five iconoclastic musicians working a theme endlessly, relentlessly, and inventively, producing music that plays more like a movie than an album. Early on, as "History Song" eases into view on a circular acoustic guitar phrase, it establishes an alluring, dank, and artfully dour mood that the band continually expands and explores without ever letting the gloom lift. But for as dark as this is, GBQ never sounds despairing -- it's wearily resigned, as Albarn and his bandmates prefer to luxuriously wallow in the murk instead of finding a way out of it. There's a comfort in its melancholy, particularly in how the album glides from one elegantly doleful song to another, but at times the album almost sounds too samey, with no individual song emerging from the whole. Part of the reason for this is Danger Mouse's production: it's as subtle and clever as ever, but built largely in the post-production -- to the extent that he'll mix out Allen for large stretches of the album just for the aural effect. He's orchestrated a unified, dramatic album -- it's a tapestry of impeccable, sorrowful, yet sultry soundscapes -- but given the pedigree of this band, it's hard not to wish that the album offered more of the quartet just playing, gussied up with no effect. Nevertheless, as an album The Good, the Bad & the Queen is singularly effective, bringing the roiling melancholy undercurrent of Demon Days to the surface and creating a murky, mud-streaked impressionistic rock noir that's sinisterly seductive in its gloom.