3 out of 5
Produced by: Danger Mouse
Damon Albarn has proven to have a few different frontman modes over the course of his career with Blur, Gorillaz, and his various one-offs / spin-offs: There’s the poppy, disaffected youth, popularized on earlier Blur albums; the laid-back cool kid who kicked off Gorillaz; the somber observationist of 13… and ranges and combinations in between. That it does always come across as a mode is perhaps telling – maybe as a result of being the face of one side of the Britpop wars at one point influenced or necessitated such an approach – but the element of remove has also become a dynamic of Albarn’s work, and makes him an interesting guy to listen to, even if it prevents any given album from fully sticking a landing.
With this in mind, and with the somewhat ambiguous dissolution of Blur post-Think Tank and some Gorillaz work in the tank, it was intriguing to hear that a solo project was being worked on with Demon Days producer Danger Mouse; would this be Albarn’s real foray into something more akin to singer/songwriter material? But time passed, and the concept morpherd: Now it was a band of people from The Verve, The Clash, and Fela Kuti’s drummer, playing in a group called… or, well, an unnamed group playing a concept album called The Good, The Bad and The Queen. For me, while still absolutely intrigued, this lineup was a bit of a step back for Damon, retreating to the relative safety of the identity formed by an album and its players.
Prove me wrong for trying to be all top down analytical.
From opener History Song’s lowdown shuffle and dubby bass, TGTBTQ sounds exactly like the sum of its parts, but that ends up making for an intriguing whole, and one that sounds more passionate and engaged than Albarn has in years. It’s actually the tracks that seem like more likely remnants from when this was a solo act – lots of electronics, a Danger Mouse beat – that the performance loses some traction. Kingdom of Doom; The Bunting Song – these are fine tracks, but they don’t offer the same group vibe of the album’s better songs, and mire the listen in a somewhat middling sensibility. Because the group’s general M.O. is laid back, a malaise drifts in that’s hard to shake. Thus, despite my praise of how things kick off, the middle of the album ends up blending together, with, of course, some standout moments. And the album is far from being a wash – late in the game we get the stunning Three Changes, a tonally shifting, jittery mini-epic that’s almost worth the price of admission, and the closet title track captures the downtrodden whimsy of the disc’s London living vibe to a T.
So like a lot of Albarn projects, it’s a mixed bag of genius and wandering, but it’s forever impressive that the man can find new configurations for his sound and approach, and drop tracks on par with any Parklife or Clint Eastwood memories you may have.