Damon Albarn is a side-project dynamo. Though he was surrounded by talent with Blur, the group was very much his brainchild. Almost more notable these days for leading the rock/rap group Gorillaz, Albarn has again stepped outside of his comfort zone with The Good, The Bad & The Queen. From Blur’s Brit-pop and occasional grunge feel and Gorillaz’s tight orchestral movements mashed together with overproduced background noise and rapping, Albarn has moved on to a more downtrodden and melancholy sound.

The problem with being involved in so many side projects is that, inevitably, there’s going to be a stinker. This puts The Good, The Bad & The Queen at a disadvantage from the start if every track is meticulously examined by an Albarn fan with a Gorillaz and Blur filter. Then again, to call The Good, The Bad & The Queen a mere side-project would be the equivalent of calling The Arctic Monkeys the best group out of England.

This band is a fucking supergroup. Along with the inexhaustible Albarn, the band is comprised of The Verves’ guitarist Simon Tong, former Clash bassist Paul Simonon and legendary afro-beat drummer Tony Allen. If that line-up weren’t enough, Albarn also enlists the help of Danger Mouse, one half of Gnarls Barkley and the producer of Gorillaz’s last effort Demon Days, to oversee production.

So The Good, The Bad & The Queen is its own entity, but many of their songs bear resemblance to those other projects of Albarn’s. No track stands out from the rest – a song like “Northern Whale” begs for Del tha Funkee Homosapien’s vocals, but instead is dull and lifeless as Albarn rambles alongside a subpar computerized beat.

The downfalls in The Good, The Bad & The Queen come not in what is produced, but rather in what isn’t created. Having the talented Tony Allen go underused on such a large scale is frustrating. “History Song” unfairly tricks the listener into thinking that Tony Allen’s afrobeat influence will be evident on the album – this is not the case. The track starts with a quick, finger-picking acoustic guitar interlude met with Albarn’s strained and downright depressing vocals as he screeches, “Shiver ‘cross / The estuary / Sunday’s lost / In melancholy.” The song ends with tribal-like chanting coupled with Allen’s African drums beat before heading into a chaotic mess of reverb and crashing instruments.

The ghost of Blur may sometimes loom large, such as in the album’s closing track, when it’s impossible not to expect a blistering guitar solo out of Graham Coxon. But it’s ultimately Tong who strangleholds the guitar section while Albarn’s ferocious, quickening piano riffs hold down the song’s seven minutes. Standing on its own without the comparisons to Blur and the Gorillaz, The Good, The Bad & The Queen would be a fine album with a lot of promise for future recordings. Still, when you consider the wealth of talent packed into this one group, however, it’s disappointing that something better couldn’t have been produced.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The Good, The Bad & The Queen
The Good, The Bad & The Queen
Virgin

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