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Albarn's The Good, The Bad, and The Queen


British musician Damon Albarn likes to dabble in a number of different styles. His projects have touched on rock, hip-hop and West African music. His latest group is called The Good, The Bad and The Queen, and they've just released a self-titled debut CD. Our critic, Will Hermes, has a review.

WILL HERMES: I never much liked Damon Albarn, which is not to say I dislike him. But back in the '90s when his first band Blur was rising high in the self-impressed genre known as Brit pop, I couldn't care less about them. And when Blur later made a decent record that aped American indie rock, I still didn't care, except maybe for that little woohoo on their shameless hit "Song 2," now best known as a TV commercial thing.

(Soundbite of song, "Song 2")

Mr. DAMON ALBARN (Musician): (Singing) Woohoo, wohoo -

HERMES: But who knew that Damon Albarn would go on to become maybe the most interesting pop mind of his generation in Britain? The first sign was his oddball and surprisingly successful pop/hip-hop group called Gorillaz.

(Soundbite of song, "Clint Eastwood")

Mr. ALBARN: (Singing) I ain't happy, I'm feeling glad. I got sunshine in a bag. I'm useless, but not for long. The future is coming on. I ain't happy, I'm feeling glad.

HERMES: Part of the current Gorillaz team is a producer called Danger Mouse who, you may remember, made last year's greatest pop single with his own oddball pop/hip-hop group, Gnarles Barkley.

(Soundbite of song, "Crazy")

Mr. CEE-LO GREEN (Lead singer, Gnarles Barkley): (Singing) Does that make me crazy? Does that make me crazy? Does that make me crazy? Probably.

HERMES: Danger Mouse is part of Damon Albarn's new outfit The Good, The Bad and The Queen, a sort of fantasy football super group that gathers great players from disparate musical tunes(ph). It also features former Clash bassist Paul Simonon and the 67-year-old drummer Tony Allen who, as a member Fela Kuti's Nigerian funk band in the '70s, proved himself to be one of the greatest groove stokers in recorded history. Together, it's a really tasty combination.

(Soundbite of song, "History Song")

Mr. ALBARN: (Singing) The estuary Sundays lost in melancholy. If you don't know it now then you will do. And if you don't know it now then you will do.

HERMES: While Gorillaz is mostly about mixing hip-hop and rock, The Good, The Bad and The Queen has more of a dub-reggae feel, with Paul Simonon showing off the ear-massaging style he mastered with the Clash.

(Soundbite of song, "Northern Whale")

Mr. ALBARN: (Singing) They only see you in a dream lying by a sad machine. Sing on, love, your melody. In a tide end town everyone hallucinating with you. -

HERMES: This is a record that's foremost about textures and grooves, but Albarn writes some haunting songs, most of them apparently about England. He sings of a strappy(ph) little island of mixed-up people, about rising oceans, endless war, and lives spent under medication simply to deal with it all.

(Soundbite of song, "Herculean")

Mr. ALBARN: (Singing) And the medicine man is here 24-7. You can get it fast in Armageddon. Everyone is on the way to heaven slowly.

HERMES: "The Good, The Bad and The Queen" is a strange little record. I don't hear a hit like the ones Damon Albarn delivered on the Gorillaz CDs, but the new discs still shows him on a creative hot streak. And it looks like the fantasy football method of assembling projects is spreading from hip-hop to rock, which I think is great. And right now, Damon Albarn is doing it better than just about anyone else.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: The music is from The Good, The Bad and The Queen. Our critic is Will Hermes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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