Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

I must confess, I have an unnatural fascination for what happens after successful bands split. What they do next? Who do they work with? What musical directions they take: new bands, solo work, side projects? Whatever happens never ceases to surprise, mystify, or amaze me, sometimes all at the same time. It would seem that talent and chemistry as a group, once separated, can lead to anything from "OMFG that's even better (unreasonable usage of exclamation points)" all the way to "WTF were you thinking (similarly for question marks)" and everything in-between.

With their four albums from 1994 and 1999 (Parklife, The Great Escape, Blur, and 13) Damon Albarn and Blur pretty much ruled the world, or at least the English-speaking portion in the colder and wetter Northwest corner of Europe. However, after the departure of Blur collaborator and instrumental genius Graham Coxon, and Blur's Coxon-less misadventure Think Tank, Damon found that he needed new avenues to realize his musical visions.

Following the revolving door band Gorillaz, who produced a couple of albums to great media coverage but lacking, IMO, vision, or substance, Damon's next and latest venture is The Good, The Bad & The Queen (heretoafter to be known acronomiously as TGTBATQ), compromised of Captain Blur himself with Verve/Gorillaz guitarist Simon Tong, Clash bassist Paul Simonon, and drummer Tony Allen, a founder of Afrobeat and Afrofunk. As someone who was mad for Blur and lukewarm on Gorillaz, I was totally ready to embrace TGTBATQ. However…

Damon Albarn remains a most gifted songwriter. But listening to TGTBATQ, it came across as incomplete, unfulfilled, unrealized, and left me wanting more. Much more…

TGTBATQ opens with "The History Song," a track that initially grabbed me and made me think "f*%!, I'm gonna love this album!!!" However, as the bars ticked by, it became increasingly apparent that the song was never going to shift direction (which it doesn't) and I soon found myself wanting to try the next track instead. And then the next, then the next, the next, and… (repeat ad infinitum). As Lord Scrumptious says in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: "Time's up. Had your chance. Muffed it." Thus unable to find direction in TGTBATQ's music, I turned instead to the lyrics for solace…

Damon has described the TGTBATQ as "a song cycle that's also a mystery play about London," hence, presumably, the title (geddit?): your regular big city, except that in this one, the Queen lives there too (not Helen Mirren — the real Queen, as in God save the…). However no cigar once again, with seemingly meaningless lines like "In a tide end town / Everyone hallucinating on you / But a Northern whale / Wouldn't leave until all Englands tears are done" (sic) ("Northern Whale") and "Pull out the bunting / She made them one by one / Hang em in the trees / untill a breeze it comes" (sic) ("The Bunting Song"). Coupled with the "artistic" and repeated use of deliberate typos (according to the liner notes), the lyrics come across as less like a mystery play, and more like bad teenage poetry.

Following "The History Song," the trio of tracks "A Northern Whale," "Kingdom of Doom," and "Herculean" that soon follow are really great ideas that again, ultimately, don't quite deliver on their initial promise. For example, "Kingdom of Doom" comes across as an attempt at a pseudo psychedelic 60s flashback. Rather than convincing me, it instead made me yearn for the far more interesting efforts of early Pink Floyd. And while "Herculean" is easily the best track on the album and its most enjoyable, it reminded me far too much of an early (and superior) Frank Black solo track, "Calistan."

Don't get me wrong, TGTBATQ does have its moments. Unfortunately, after the promising yet frustrating early tracks that reminded me of how great a songwriter is Damon Alban, TGTBATQ seems to lose its shape for most of the rest of the album, culminating in the cringe-worthy final and title track, which seriously sounds like the song you wrote on your dad's piano at age 13, fully expecting to be the next Evan Dando, only to realize 10 years later that 1) it's derivative of everything, and 2) it's kinda crap. And if the painful piano ditty isn't annoying enough, the unnecessary 5+ minute heavy distortion playout has been done before (just once or nine million times…).

In the end, TGTBATQ fell short of my hopes and expectations and after the first few listens, I put it back on the shelf, dusted off my copies of The Great Escape and Blur, and fell in love with the Damon Albarn of ten years ago all over again.