Release Date: Nov 16, 2018
Record label: Studio 13
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Damon Albarn first convened the Good, The Bad & The Queen -- a collective featuring drummer Tony Allen, former Clash bassist Paul Simonon and ex-Verve guitarist Simon Tong -- in the mid-2000s, when a heavy cloud hung over the world. Things haven't gotten better in the decade separating the group's eponymous 2007 debut and its long-awaited sequel, 2018's Merrie Land. Nationalism swept across the globe, taking root in the twin 2016 disruptors of the election of Donald J Trump in the U.S.
“A stroppy little island of mixed-up people” was how Damon Albarn memorably described the United Kingdom in a song called Three Changes from The Good, The Bad & The Queen‘s debut album back in 2007. At the time it was an amusingly grumpy reference from the man who’s a bit of an expert at nailing the national psyche. More than a decade on, and with Brexit on the horizon, it seems a horribly prophetic line.
"And especially from every shire's end of England; the holy blissful martyr for to seek, that them had helped them when they were weak". So begins Merrie Land, the second album by the 'supergroup' (a horrible phrase) of Damon Albarn, afrobeat legend Tony Allen, Clash bassist Paul Simonon and Verve/Blur side-man Simon Tong, which technically doesn't have a name but is usually referred to as The Good, The Bad and the Queen. The quote comes from Geoffrey Chaucer's fourteenth century book The Canterbury Tales, a contemporary examination of all the strata of English life.
While the first, self-titled record he released with this band was solely focused on what it meant to be a Londoner, this new record is solely concerned with what it means to be living in the United Kingdom while our 45-year membership of the EU crashes down around us. Once again, Albarn calls on music royalty to round out his band. Joining him on the record, as they did on the first, are The Clash 's Paul Simonon, Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen and The Verve , Blur and Gorillaz guitarist Simon Tong.
Damon Albarn has been here before: examining the state of his nation from a place of great ambivalence. He's been tangled in the Union Jack since his days at the helm of Blur, when he laced chart-topping pop with serrated critiques of British culture. In the decades since, the definition of that culture has become increasingly contested--particularly in the debates around Britain's 2016 decision to leave the EU.
The Damon Albarn-led troupe return after 11 years with an album that plods through Brexit Britain at a meandering pace The Good, The Bad & The Queen's self-titled debut record, released in 2007, was a fog-filled journey through the winding backstreets of London that revelled in the poetry of everyday life, backed by scattershot folk-rock compositions. Arriving as the planet teetered on the brink of a devastating financial crash and austerity policies dominated political discourse, the relationship between the capital and the rest of Britain dominated the well-received "song-cycle". Now, on new album 'Merrie Land', the British identity is once again pulled into focus by the group, comprised of Blur and Gorillaz man Damon Albarn, The Clash's Paul Simonon, former Verve member Simon Tong and Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen.
There's a lengthy tome waiting to be written about the seeming indefatigability of Damon Albarn's quest for melody. In particular, scrutiny should be applied to his knack for albums which slow-burn their way into listeners' affections. 'Merrie Land', the third studio album he has released in eighteen months, is a tense, sometimes disorientating listen, but early plays are typically inconclusive.
"T his is not rhetoric, it comes from my heart," sings Damon Albarn on the title track of this latest album by the Good, the Bad & the Queen. Nearly 12 years on from their self-titled debut - an atmospheric ode to west London that united Clash bassist Paul Simonon with Nigerian funk drummer Tony Allen - fellow traveller of Fela Kuti - and guitarist Simon Tong, most notably of the Verve - Albarn's haunted supergroup have returned, like a more urbane, slightly more louche version of King Arthur and his knights, to an imperilled country. What exactly is that country, though? "Are we green, are we pleasant?" wonders Albarn bitterly, "We are not either of those, father / We are a shaking wreck where nothing grows / Lost in the sky-coloured oils of Merrie Land.