The Clash had London Calling, Blur had Parklife and now The Good, The Bad & The Queen have created a modern day love song to London, with enough dreaming of England to keep it universal. A supergroup of understated sorts, TGTB&TQ sees Blur/Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn, The Clash’s bassist Paul Simonon, Verve guitarist Simon Tong, and Fela Kuti’s drummer, Tony Allen, team up to create something that reflects mid-00s life ‘on a stroppy little island of mixed up people’. It’s so soporific as to almost pass by like a dream. Almost, that is, if it weren’t for the astounding musicianship, the soul in Albarn’s vocals, and the fact that, like Tom Waits, it uses found sound (dubby basslines, almost break-beat style drumming, Kinks-like music hall piano and scratchy folk guitar) to create a world entirely of its own. It truly is a dreamscape, helped to materialise in no small part by the astounding, gentle production skills of Brian ‘Danger Mouse’ Burton. Whereas Parklife had the energy of thousands for a mid-90s Brit party that didn’t want to end, and London Calling brought to English music an invigorating mix of rock, roots and reggae, The Good, The Bad & The Queen (so titled because it encompasses all who live under London’s clouds) is a symbiosis between melancholy and melody. It’s what Blur could have done if things didn’t go so plastic with The Great Escape, and what Albarn has needed to get out of his system ever since he forced himself to stop writing ‘English’ music. Here, feeling and mood overtakes clarity in something that is neither waking dream nor living nightmare. In fact, most of the lyrics are borderline non sequiturs the likes of ‘Sunday’s lost in melancholy. If you don’t know now, then you will do’. An overbearing sense of loss, however, is palpable. Communities no longer exist in today’s London, unless it’s to fight against ‘the other’. That, of course, goes hand-in-hand with personal politics (see Green Fields, which still manages to name check the war). The genius of TGTB&TQ is to bring it all together and show us that we really are all one (indeed, Mr Whippy, B-side to the limited, now-deleted CD/7” single, Herculean, even takes that quintessential English concept to title a song built on Arabic rap). Every localisation has a wider resonance. On the title track, the plea, ‘Don’t kick the crack heads out of the green’ is given universal power when followed with ‘they’re a political party’; mournful The Bunting Song brings to mind village imagery that acts as a microcosm for nationwide disappointment. When A Soldier’s Tale comes in two songs later, a more pointed story comes to light: something akin to Bob Dylan’s John Brown (a tale of a mother so proud and boastful of her war-bound son that their lives turn predictably sour in the end). And that’s where the crux lies. Although it seems to be largely given over to a London more mixed than ever, and now more unwilling to harmonize than in recent memory, the universal hook to TGTB&TQ is, ‘I don’t want to live a war that’s got no end in our time. Call it living in this country’. The people we’ve trusted into power have all lied to us and there’s nothing to stop it. Kingdom Of Doom puts it succinctly enough: ‘Drink all day ’cause the country’s at war.’ But then, like the best of all British pop that makes a statement, there is more hope than despair. And so despite the fine mess we seem to have gotten ourselves into, if something so beautiful and resonant as this can still be created, things can still change. That is the beacon of light in an album full of mixed sounds and emotions for a mixed audience.
The Good, The Bad & The Queen - The Good, The Bad & The Queen
England’s calling - will you accept the charges?
Parlophone | 3730672
Reviewed by Jason Draper
<< Back to Issue 333
You might also like:
- ALBUM REVIEW: Condition Red: The Complete Goodees by The Goodees
- ALBUM REVIEW: London Sound Survey by These Are The Good Times
- LIVE REVIEW: Dudley JB’s - 1st February, 2007
- LIVE REVIEW: The Good The Bad & The Queen - 2nd February, 2007