Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?
A special accolade is deserved here. While Blur leader Damon Albarn and now-ubiquitous producer Danger Mouse worked on Gorillazâ€šÃ„Ã´ Demon Days album, they also created another band project that simply defies classificationâ€šÃ„Ã®a project, in fact, without a name. Well, their hastily released album has a name, The Good, The Bad & The Queen, and when the group performs live they’re credited as such, but if you ask them they’ll claim the band is unnamed.This band brings together several of Albarn’s favorite musical personalities: The Clash bassist Paul Simonon, Fela Kuti’s drummer Tony Allen and The Verve guitarist Simon Tong. This cherry-picking helps formulate a rare combination of elements. There are splashes of Allen’s distinct afrobeat drumming (“Three Changes”), Albarn’s perfect neo-political piano pop (“Kingdom of Doom”), Tong’s lightly plucked, arpeggiated folk (“History Song”) and the most amazing musical backbone a songwriter could ask forâ€šÃ„Ã®Simonon’s half punk/half dub two-note basslines (damn near every track here).
The sum of those parts: an irresistible, niche-less blend of modern musical styles, neither jarring nor pretentious. While piano drives “Behind the Sun,” Simonon’s meaty licks lock the groove in place until string flourishes carry the song to completion. Bleeps and bloops dominate “Northern Whale” as Albarn croons amidst choral backing, “But a Northern whale / Wouldn’t leave until England’s tears are done.” “Herculean” reaches for epic heights through syncopated percussion and intricately arranged reeds and strings.
And then comes the title track. “The Good, The Bad & the Queen” starts with an operatic touch before plunging into an echoing, instantly unforgettable piano line. The song crawls forward, with Tong adding guitar crunches as Allen and Simonon take a funky walking backbeat towards a frantic climax. Even with only one verse and no chorus, Albarn and company take each melodic refrain they create and methodically, gleefully smash them against one another. Even if the whole album wasn’t brilliant, this track would be worth the cost alone. Lucky for us, The Good, The Bad & The Queen holds a swirling mass of tunes intermittently evoking The Specials, The Clash, Blur, The Verve and a host of other essential British music. Well done, Damon.