Wednesday, January 22, 2014

On a Stroppy Little Island of Mixed-up People

Today marks the 7th anniversary of the release of The Good, the Bad & The Queen, the album product of the formally-unnamed, collaboration between Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon, Simon Tong and Tony Allen. It remains a pretty much loved album in my small, Daddish collection.
Appropriately for a winter release, GBQ (as I shall abbreviate it henceforth) doesn’t get a lot of playtime in sunnier months, but yesterday was a very soggy day for summer, and it seemed to fit. In fact, my earliest memory after buying this was listening to it on the car stereo during a drive home, stuck in traffic with what looked like half of Wellington’s annual rainfall hammering down around me. GBQ is a rain-lashed album, with imagery of dark, thunderous clouds and an impending deluge – a post-millennial throwback to the rising oceans of Simonon’s famous former act’s London Calling. There’s London on the album, too, of course – throughout the album, in fact. This is Damon Albarn in his late solo phase cast as a fretful sleeper anchored in England’s sinking and drinking capital, singing songs about global warming, the Iraq invasion and the spiritual gloom of his homeland. It’s not all storm clouds, but the Apocalypse can’t be far away: bunting hangs awaiting the return of soldiers posted abroad, ambulance sirens chorus in the distance, a whale is stranded up the Thames, and the ravens of the Tower take flight. GBQ shares its producer Danger Mouse with Gorillaz’ equally doomsday Demon Days, but the result here is less global, more local. This is an album which flirts as much with other works as it does with English ritual and lore – there are echoes of Dirty Old Town in the lyrics, late in the play Simonsn’s bass threatens to deliver an updated version of Guns of Brixton (something the bassist reportedly did accidentally during a live performance), and comparisons and contrasts are inevitable with the Village Green Preservation Society sound of peak era Blur. Yet the arch, playful Parklife this is not, but it’s as perfect a counterpart to Blur’s London album as its follow-up, the fraught and boorish The Great Escape wasn’t.

I love History Song, Three Changes, Kingdom of Doom (attendant fade out bass riff of London Calling included) and the appropriately-named Herculean with Allen’s drumbeat hissing and skipping up the front of the stage; Three Changes mixes the rhythm section even more – both Allen and Simonon being the real engine of the group (it’s been said Allen’s work is underused here,  but his strikes and counter beats along with Simonon's reggae-influenced bass dramatically turn the compositions on several occasions.) Green Fields casts a wistful eye back on a lost landscape (“before the war and the tidal wave… how the world has changed”) before the flourish of piano keys leads you into the rising, cathartic title track, culminating in a sort of shambolic tumbledown free-for-all. At just over 40 minutes it’s not a long album, and there are B-Sides to be had, but as it is GBQ is compact enough to while away a rainy day with four cool and talented gentlemen.

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