The Good, the Bad and the Monkey
Damon Albarn has never been afraid of taking risks. He went from being the front man of a globally successful Britpop band, to pioneering a completely virtual electro band, to establishing an indie supergroup with The Good, the Bad & the Queen. Now he has pushed himself into somewhat of a void: the pop opera.The most conceptual album of his musical career to date, Monkeyâ€šÃ„Ã®both produced and performed by Albarn, the latter with the U.K. Chinese Ensembleâ€šÃ„Ã®is based on the score Albarn wrote for the stage adaptation of a 16th century Chinese novel entitled Journey to the West. He recreates the traditional aesthetic of oriental music while arranging it for a modern audience. Although hinting at his interest in world music previously, the former Blur vocalist had never taken the almost controversial leap into the genre, a place where many a musician has tried and failed to grasp the attention of a well-educated audience.
Monkey is reminiscent of the simplified style classical Chinese music encompasses, though it somehow manages to reinvent this for an audience who would otherwise no doubt switch off. It is one of the most successful conceptual albums so far this year, and with the year almost out it may be part of the minority. Unfortunately, the album has lost something in the translation from the stage. Without the lavish staging of the opera, the music dwindles occasionally. It seems that it is better as an assault on the vision, not just the ears.
Some of the tracks are brilliant pieces of composition, especially the whooshing, synth-heavy “Monkey Bee” and “O Mi to Fu,” which contains awe-inspiring beats that would not be amiss in any electro number. A few tracks, however, leave a lot to be desired. “Confessions of a Pig” can hardly be called a classic piece, and most of the song is filled with a man grunting like a pig.
Despite this, there is something typical of Albarn encompassed within Monkey. You know, just as you did with Gorillaz and The Good, the Bad & the Queen, that he has had a hand in constructing it. Nobody could pull a project like this off, and to this standard, other than him.