Back in the '90s, when Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots conquered the American charts, Blur, alongside archenemy Oasis and adorable creep Radiohead, were the bands loading the British music canon. In that interim, the Yankees yelled with the glory days of grunge, while the Blokes found themselves into the frequent fistfights of Brit Rock.
And what happened a decade after? The big three of America are practically goners: Kurt Cobain is dead; Eddie Vedder has lost his hair while Scott Weiland has gone in and out of the rehab and vainly formed a so-called "supergroup" called Velvet Revolver with washed-up '90s musicians from Guns'n'Roses.
The English rockers, on the other hand, have a different story. Thom Yorke and the rest of Radiohead transfer their aim to the US with Grammy winning releases, the Gallagher brothers have beaten the crap out of each other but reunited to continue what's left of the Oasis legacy, and Damon Albarn and the Blur army remain grounded in the UK.
As an effect, Blur became a cultural force in England. All of the band's major releases—Leisure (1991), Modern Life is Rubbish (1993), Parklife (1994), The Great Escape (1995), Blur (1997), 13 (1999) and Think Tank (2003)—exploded with social commentaries and urban life examination, particularly in UK, side by side with Albarn's patented lalalas and whoo-hoos.
When Graham Coxon, Blur's guitarist, quit during the recording of Think Tank, it was the signal of the demise of the band. But that did not stop Damon Albarn to explore his musical genius further, so he created the virtual band Gorillaz with Tank Girl mastermind Jamie Hewlett and released two albums namely Gorillaz and Demon Days. Gorillaz became one of the biggest global phenomena of the new millennium that it literally conquered the world with media and technology and influenced other virtual bands like The Bipolar Bears and Crazy Frog to follow.
Not yet satisfied with his global domination with the Gorillaz, Albarn formed another music militia last year with the legendary Clash bassist Paul Simonon, former Verve guitarist Simon Tong and Afrobeat pioneer and Africa 70 drummer Tony Allen. The group is widely known as The Good, the Bad and the Queen, but the truth is the band is still unnamed and the known name is just the title of its first collaborative effort. Albarn and company know that they are a supergroup, so they choose not to hide with a silly band name like Velvet Revolver.
The Good, the Bad and the Queen could be Blur's eighth outing, but due to irreconcilable differences with Coxon, Albarn recorded it with his new squad. This album is armed with songs pensive of London in the new millennium, a much more disillusioned viewpoint compared to Parklife and Think Tank. The pilot single "Herculean" tackles this sentiment, as vocalist-chief of staff Albarn keens on how astute capitalism pervade people's lives, "The call for prayer is common around here in the morning, wash your faces, go to work, there is no warning."
"Herculean" is played with melancholic piano, watery bassline from bassist-general Simonon, and whirling sound effects courtesy of producer-admiral Danger Mouse. The pilot single, as it represents the whole album, is filled with materiel of music improvisation and experimentation.
One persistent theme in the CD is war, which perhaps reflects Albarn's disapproval of UK's major role in Iraq. In "Nature Springs," he frets, "Oceanographers are charting the rise of the seas, everyone's a submarine caught in a war." Meanwhile, in "Kingdom of Doom" he advises, "Drink all day, all day, because the country is at war, soon you'll be falling off the palace walls," and resigns, "I can't be any more than I say, in the flood we all get washed away." For Albarn, the future is very worrisome and uncertain, and this impression is further emphasized by drummer-colonel Allen's unpredictable hits and patters.
Other outstanding tracks that push the experimental envelope further are the album opener "History Song," "Green Fields," "'80s Life," "Behind the Sun," "A Soldier's Tale" and the title track "The Good, the Bad and the Queen."
The Good, the Bad and the Queen is a marvelous sonic invention. It is a groundbreaking record that tells us that even the darkest dispositions could lead to sterling musical achievements. It proclaims victory for Albarn, Simonon, Tong and Allen for resisting contemporary trends and entrenching new standards. Mission accomplished. The Queen should bestow Albarn the title Lord of London for writing wonderful music about the capital in his entire career.