Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Downcast days

The Good, the Bad
& the Queen

The Good, the Bad
& the Queen

Score: 4

Oh, 2-D, what did they do to drive you away? Did you get tired of Murdoc flashing pentagrams? Was Russel throwing his weight around? Please don't let this foreshadow the "creative differences" announcement.

Because you and your animated pals have made better records than the markedly less animated musicians in The Good, the Bad & the Queen.

Damon Albarn, perhaps best known these days as 2-D, the main vocalist for Gorillaz, leads a supergroup comprised of bassist Paul Simonon (The Clash), guitarist Simon Tong (The Verve) and drummer Tony Allen (Fela Kuti) on a surprisingly underwhelming journey on The Good, the Bad & the Queen.

That queen part gives you an idea the album's about Britain, but good times are few and far between. Albarn mopes through song after song of the flat, the bland and the shiftless. Maybe it's because of Iraq. "Drink all day / coz the country is at war" he laments on "Kingdom of Doom," as though all life has offer is cold porridge and a front-row seat at the nation's public shaming.

Though Albarn's pace and stance recall some of his soggier work with Blur, the music easily could be mistaken for scrapped Gorillaz compositions. Plenty of the quirks are there: the impish keyboard trundle ("Northern Whale"), the outer space vibe ("Herculean"), the prominent bass ("The Bunting Song"), a choir ("Herculean"). The sonic resemblance is apparent on other songs, too, probably in no small part because Danger Mouse, who handled Demon Days, reprised his role as producer.

And all of these things work to the album's disadvantage, since the similarities underscore its shortcomings. The Good, the Bad & the Queen lacks the adventurousness of Gorillaz, and it lacks the shrewdness and wit of Blur.

Nevertheless, a few cuts are worth hearing. "80's Life" has a Beach Boys nod and a nice piano chord progression. "Three Changes" bustles with agitated clatter. By the time the other band members really assert themselves --- three minutes into the final track --- it's a welcome, rocking contrast to the pervading wet-blanket monotony.

You wonder what Albarn had them doing the rest of the time. Eating porridge?

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