Sound: If you were a fan of vocalist Daron Albarn's work in the Gorillaz or Blur for that matter, then you probably already know that the singer never likes to stick with the same sound, which is a massive part of his appeal. The Good, The Bad & The Queen might seem risky in some fans' eyes, with its stripped-down sound. It bares absolutely no resemblance to the more electronic-oriented Gorillaz or more punk-rock driven Blur, and that's to be commended. It's not likely to attract quite as many listeners as the danceable Gorillaz tunes, but it still unique enough to entice a whole new audience.
The Good, The Bad & The Queen features some other heavy-hitters that are absolutely worthy of mention: Clash bassist Paul Simonon, former guitarist for The Verve Simon Tong, and Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen. It's an impressive lineup and it's obvious that the main focus is creating moody, yet melodic tunes that you won't forget quickly. At the helm is producer Danger Mouse, known more for his dance and R&B work with bands like Gnarls Barkley and a remix of The Beatles' White Album. Danger Mouse does add some nice synth beats in at times, but he never lets them overpower the core music on The Good, The Bad & The Queen.
The opener History Song is an odd little track that could easily fit into the soundtrack of an offbeat movie. It's simplistic in its approach, with a clean acoustic guitar intro leading the way. Slowly but surely, Albarn's vocals, a grooving bass, and a low-key keyboard are added into the mix. Despite the minimalistic approach to History Song, it is haunting in its own way. It might not have the marketability like a Gorillaz song, but it still has an unusual quality that makes it just as intriguing.
The rest of the tracks on The Good, The Bad & The Queen will likely surprise a lot of listeners with its laid-back and somewhat anti-rock approach. You're not going to find the usual hit single among the 12 tracks, but that doesn't mean it's not a good record. There is a strong sense of melody in most of the songs, even though it has a much darker feel at the same time. The tempo never picks up too much, and that aspect alone might not connect with fans of the Gorillaz, Blur, or The Clash. // 8
Lyrics: Albarn told Mojo magazine that the self-titled concept record is a song cycle that's also a mystery play about London. Although the vague story lines are indeed mysterious, the songs' strength is in their incredible use of imagery.
There are some songs that use very few words to express the theme underneath it all, as is the case in History Song. Even so, the sparse verses are pieced together nicely. Albarn sings, A ship across; The estuary; Sundays lost; In Melancholy. While the meaning is somewhat blurry, the cool wording keeps the same mysterious vibe that you'll hear in the music.
A Soldier's Tale is a telling song that gives a bit of insight into Albarn's opinion of today's society. He sings, Birdsong in the night; The sound drags a net through the twilight; Emptiness in computers bothers me; These are the seas in our minds. While there are just as many questions as answers in the 2 verses and no chorus of A Soldier's Tale, it's satisfying to see a band break out of the usual lyrical format. // 9
Overall Impression: The Good, The Bad & The Queen goes against pretty much what every band is doing out there these days, and that alone is respectable. Albarn has been known for his independent thinking in the music world, and his current band marks another unique addition in his career. While the trademark accent is still ever-present in his vocals, Albarn still is able to reinvent himself through his choice of songs.
There is no Feel Good Inc. in the bunch, so be prepared for an introspective, haunting collection of songs. Even though the CD can be both amazing and somewhat of a downer because of the down-tempo style, it will likely evoke emotion either way. And for many listeners, that's the main point of music. // 8