It has been 11 years since the last album by The Good, The Bad & The Queen, and a lot has changed since then. Thankfully TGTB&TQ have not, and are as on the ball as they were back in 2007.
Title track and opener ‘Merrie Land’ sets a haunting scene of a picturesque but broken Britain that is worth fighting for while at the same time asking if it’s worth the bother, with Albarn sounding already defeated. ‘Gun To The Head’ is an album highlight for me, sounding like Parklife-era Blur mixed with Madness with its chanty chorus and oompa beat, but the melancholy undertone is still present despite the upbeat brass.
‘The Last Man To Leave’ is one of the most inventive, intense and simply brilliant tracks on the album, and that Damon has ever done; Damon’s vocals sounding like a crazed preacher shouting about not wanting to leave and ‘liking the bed we’ve made to lie in’ while still carrying real, heartbreaking emotion.
The whole album plays out like a sad but hopeful love letter to the UK. The lyrics to ‘Nineteen Seventeen’ perhaps most directly hint at Brexit woes; ‘I see myself moving backwards in time today from a place we can’t remain … My heart is heavy because it looks just like my home.’ with other tracks referring to lines on maps and Windrush.
While this may seem a bit too in your face and preachy when written down, rest assured the whole project has that beautiful sad echo throughout it that only Damon at his best can bring, with his truly great songwriting helped come to life even further by the stellar line-up of Paul Simonon on Bass, Tony Allen on Drums and Simon Tong on guitar.
A few songs do sound very similar to each other and a bit one-note, with ‘The Great Fire’ being a bit of a low point for me, but these tracks are in the minority and the album still flows fairly well.
The themes in this album will hit home for those in the UK at the moment, but the messages of drifting apart and regret leave a lot to the imagination, and the meticulously crafted songs can be enjoyed by anyone. This is the perfect album for 2018.