ARTS

  /  

January 23, 2007

Shortcuts—The Good, the Bad & the Queen

The Good, the Bad & the Queen, as you may have heard, is something of a rock supergroup. Damon Albarn (Blur), Paul Simonon (The Clash), Tony Allen (Fela Kuti), and Simon Tong (The Verve)—with the help of Danger Mouse—have combined their powers to form the ultimate rock sensation. Their eponymous album is a laid-back, somewhat melancholy affair with a hint of dub, evoking rainy afternoons and empty London streets. An undercurrent of nostalgia runs through the tracks, beginning with the nursery-rhyme la’s of “History Song,” continuing through the ’50s-tinged piano of “’80s Life” and finishing with the wistful ballad “Green Fields,” where Albarn sings “We saw the green fields turn into stone/such lovely homes.”

Albarn’s laconic drawl and imagery-heavy lyrics blend with such varied items as strings, synthesizer bleeps, an organ, and even a chipmunk voice to create expertly rendered tableaus of modern life. Such variation ultimately results in a more textured album, though occasionally things can become somewhat muddled. On “Herculean,” the electronic elements don’t quite mesh sonically with the backing vocals and strings, and the single feels somewhat overblown as a result. The album also suffers occasionally from a repetition of three-note fingerpicking, evidenced most strongly on “The Bunting Song,” though this pattern actually works well in the elegiac ballad “A Soldier’s Tale.” The album perks up in the melodic shifts of “Three Changes.” In the song, Simonon’s serpentine baseline and Allen’s jazzy drumming perfectly compliment each other. There’s even an accordion and harmonica to boot, as Albarn encapsulates the dreariness of day-to-day life in one simple line: “Today is dull and mild/ on a stroppy little island of mixed-up people.”

The album ends with the exuberant title track. Beginning with a piano line reminiscent of The Beatles’ “Martha My Dear,” it layers instruments, building up faster and faster and louder and louder to end with the group thrashing away in an uplifting finale. Miles away from the raucous sarcasm of Parklife, The Good, the Bad & the Queen offers a quiet, introspective take on city life while still conveying an overall sense of optimism.