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Drowned in Sound: The Good, The Bad & The Queen

Drowned in Sound
The Good, The Bad & The Queen
by Kodi McKinney, DJ at U92

Damon Albarn sure has a way of changing his stripes. The Blur frontman broke out of Britpop with the help of Gorillaz, his hugely successful side project that threw hip-hop and techno influences into an art-rock blender. Now Albarn has teamed with former Clash bassist Paul Simonon, ex-Verve guitarist Simon Tong, and 66-year-old Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen (yes, really) to make music as a band with no name. The group at least had the sense to give their debut, The Good, The Bad & The Queen, a name that is easily remembered.
Aside from the apparent Clint Eastwood reference, all that The Good, The Bad & The Queen has in common with Gorillaz is Albarn and some electronics. The band we get to hear on this album hardly plays anything outwardly depressing or danceable. Mostly, these guys are content to deliver hypnotic melodies with clear reggae overtones. The end result is not easily described. Imagine an album filled with nothing but peculiar change-of-pace songs, and you might come up with this record. It's overtly experimental, which is not to say that it doesn't come together once in a while.
When The Good, The Bad & The Queen is at its best, it recalls White Album-era Beatles with a touch more post-rock flavoring. "80's Life" and "Kingdom of Doom" are great samples of this sound; both start plainly and then stack textures ranging from vocal harmonies to foghorn-like feedback. It may take a few listens for these songs to really sink in, but when they do, it's as eye-opening as Albarn's sleepy voice can muster.
But Albarn's vocals really give light to this album's flaws. The sparse arrangements put him in the focal point of the mix, the last place that Albarn's trademark flat singing should ever be. It completely ruins "Behind the Sun" and threatens to derail longer stretches of the album when Albarn isn't busy sabotaging his work with unnecessary studio effects. The use of so many musical concepts is only effective when a musician knows when to stop; unfortunately, clutter like the Chipmunk-esque octave doubling on "The Bunting Song" and the title track are simply annoying. The kitchen-sink approach was definitely not a good idea.
Though it's one of the most unique releases I've heard in a long time, The Good, The Bad & The Queen has major consistency issues. It's also not a good choice for anyone looking to simply rock out, as it almost always takes an atmospheric, down-tempo approach. But if you're looking for something very different and can tolerate Albarn's lackadaisical vocal style, look no further than this intriguing album from a nameless band that sorely needs a more cohesive identity in every respect.
Rating: 3 out of 5

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