The Good, the Bad & the Queen: Merrie Land review – Damon Albarn's scattergun sketch of Britain

Damon Albarn

Groupe / Damon Albarn 375 Views comments

(Studio 13)

According to the official bumf accompanying the second album from Damon Albarn’s multigenerational supergroup, Merrie Land is “a beautiful and hopeful paean to the England of today”. Drummer Tony Allen told the Guardian last week that it’s an album people can dance to. Both sentiments might surprise those picking up the record: the cover features an image of a terrified Michael Redgrave in Dead of Night, a film in which he plays a ventriloquist taken over by his dummy, and the musical mood of much of the album is a dense, unsettled fug: slightly paranoid, rather unfocused. The combined presence of Albarn’s organ and flattened voice, Paul Simonon’s dubby bass, and occasional horns gives songs such as Nineteen Seventeen and The Truce of Twilight something of the mood of the Specials’ Ghost Town, but without that song’s almost hallucinatory clarity. You feel as if you – and the band – are groping for melodies that are almost there but never quite materialise out of the mist.

One might argue that this dislocated, discombobulated mood is wholly appropriate for an album clearly intended as a state-of-the-nation address. It’s also worth wondering whether a 50-year-old millionaire pop star is the best person to sum up the state of the nation. For all that the album was apparently inspired by Albarn travelling around the country “watching, listening” to ordinary Britons, you don’t get the sense of any real-life Britain so much as a succession of images you might get from an evening flicking through Channels 4 and 5: rowdy dogs kept on leads, “narcotics sold in Boots”, altercations on the B-road, alcoholism in Preston station, manicured lawns of an England barricaded in the 50s. There’s some lovely writing, but it never resolves into anything concrete. It’s not helped by the fact that, for all the cleverness and richness of the musical textures, there aren’t a lot of actual tunes.

Continue reading...