Buzzed Bands Podcast, Ep. 2 w/ Cold Blood Club

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Good, The Bad & The Queen (Review)

WTF? I posted this review Tom wrote last week and I just was looking through posts and I realized it wasn't there. I have no idea how that happened, the browser didn't crash during posting or anything. So without further adieu...

Tom says:

I think that it's only right that I ought to start this piece by admitting the following: I have grown into a very, very angry individual over the course of the past couple of years. Sometimes this anger seems to manifest itself as focused rage, and other times it comes as, well, a deep and palpable despair. And it reminds that, well, I'm angry. I'm angry about inequality, whether it's economic, social, or otherwise. I'm angry about it happening on national and global scales. Yeah. And I'm angry about the state of geopolitics and local politics, too. I'm angry that everyone in my generation is doomed to scales of debt and ecological disaster that will have no earthly frame of reference. I'm angry that personal morality has become a question of legislation coming from the douchebag Right, and the puissant Left, and that our country still has no idea of how to foster a sense of community or social responsibility on any useful scale. And yeah, I'm angry that two of the towns I've called home, New York and Boston, are being converted into giant, rival, city-sized condominium-estates. It's Bushworld meets the Bloomberg Republic and whenever I pause to think about I feel completely overwhelmed.

This sense of anger unloosed is one reason that, if pressed to make a pick, I would say that my favorite record from last year was The Thermals “The Body, the Blood and the Machine.” Suffice it to say that the album is a fucking classic punk rock treatise which skillfully suffused anger and melody and the like, and its release had impeccable timing. Anyway, “The Body...” is great, if you don't have it, get it. Because, if you're like me, then the Thermals' house brand of spot-on, shambling rock'n'roll is inspirational and life-affirming.

While “The Body, The Blood and The Machine” mined one side of existential dread, specifically that of fury, the record that I am discussing today, “The Good, The Bad and The Queen,” tackles the despair half. Make no mistake, Damon Albarn's new “supergroup” (perhaps the most outwardly blasé one ever constructed in terms of its collective demeanor), has not made a record about throwing in the towel or cashing in the chips or retiring to Iceland to watch the glaciers melt. The album never collapses in self-pity or bleak prophesy. Nonetheless, everything, every word, every harmony, every guitar or synth line, and every single drum break or fill, smacks of a kind of powerful solemnity. Whereas Albarn's last tour-de-force, the Gorillaz' “Demon Days” was not without thoughtful complexity or dread (see: title), “The Good, The Bad & The Queen” does not come off as its darker, grown-up companion piece. This is despite the fact that Danger Mouse is back once more on board behind the, err, the boards. Instead the resulting album is like neither Gorillaz album really. It's much more akin to the fantastic late-period Blur albums such as “13” and “Think Tank,” with the sonics of the former and the crafted cohesion of the latter. In short, Albarn has never written a record so beautiful, poetic, powerful, or well-resolved by its end.

In fact, I will go so far to say that I think that few ever have. Every single time I listen to “The Good, the Bad and The Queen” I like it more—by factors of like, ten. In one regard, the album sounds vaguely like music visiting emissaries from the future (come to our time) might bring with them. On the other hand, the more I listen to it, the more familiar it seems to become. What I'm really trying to say is that it might be one of the best records that I have ever heard. Honestly. The band, which on paper reads like this A-List Britpop + Ragga/Punk Allstar + AfroBeat Pioneer + B-List Britpop, genuinely pulls-off sounding organically constituted, and astonishingly, greater than the sum of its parts. Who knew that Paul Simonon could still play the bass after spending the last like 75 years in retirement, painting? Who knew that other guy from The Verve was actually stand up, lick for lick, to his English Guitar-Godness Graham Coxon? Who would have ever guessed that Fela Kuti's drummer (and musical director) was a fucking Gorillaz' fan?

Moreover, the album doesn't just cultivate a mood or atmosphere like other similarly ambitious projects settle for. Each and every song itself manages to speak volumes; and hear we get back to that funny thing about the natural cycles of human emotions. No matter how bleak the bass' pattern, or how ominously the piano chords strike in tracks like “Kingdom of Doom,” “Green Fields,” or the title track, invariably something (or rather, someone) manages to come along, by song's end, to elevate the mood of the proceedings. Suddenly, there comes a spectacular drum fill, or guitar flourish and boom! things are back in land of the living. The first verse of the breathtakingly gorgeous “80's Life” begins in such an ominous fashion, “Where do I see the light/ It's all gone dead in a way,” but Albarn can't help himself, and so in verse number two he reverses course, “Suddenly police run out and/ Hope is found in a sound.” Suffice it to say, this lyrical sea change is one of the most moving things I have ever heard. And so, all over “The Good, The Bad and The Queen,” at moments such as this one, despair is miraculously returned to hope and anger turned back into optimism. Fucking marvelous!

9.5 out of 10

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Totally agree. I think that if the 'critically aware' d-bags quit restraining Albarn & Co to their respective past, they might actually enjoy this fine record. It reminds me of walking through London one day while I was humming 'Melody Calls' by The Doves.

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