I think it might be time to start discussing Damon Albarn as one of, if not the, best musicians Britain has ever produced. After spending 18 months touring the world with Gorillaz – including the release of two excellent records in Humanz and The Now Now – he’s dropped the spectacle and turned his attentions to the UK with a brand-new The Good, the Bad & the Queen record. A return after 11 years, the supergroup, made up of Albarn alongside The Clash’s Paul Simonon (bass), The Verve’s Simon Tong (guitar) and afrobeat legend Tony Allen (drums), the band have produced an almost whistle stop tour damning both modern Britain (“Anglo-Saxostentialist crisis” as Albarn describes it) and, of course, Brexit.
Coincidentally released at the same time British politics is in complete turmoil, it should come as no surprise that Albarn writes vitriolically, yet beautifully, about his home after conjuring up beautiful scenes of suburbia with Parklife. Yet, Albarn is rightfully angry at the current divided state he sees his home in, especially the ‘outskirts’ (rural Wales and Blackpool are cited, in particular) and he’s used The Good, the Bad & the Queen platform to eloquently express this. Here, and throughout his career, Albarn is essentially a magician constantly saying “…and for my next trick”. As such, Merrie Land is sumptuous; a vaudevillian nightmare tour through the outer reaches of ‘Great’ Britain.
“This is not rhetoric,” Damon sings with exhaustion on title track ‘Merrie Land’. “It comes from my heart. I love this country,” he continues. That’s exactly why Merrie Land works, because there’s a genuine love and affection from Albarn here. The spectrum of emotions here is both real and genuine. From the sadness, to the elation, Albarn has written a love (and hate) letter to this muddled isle. Likewise, the reference to leaders: “Disconnected and raised up in mansions” showcases Albarn’s distaste for subtlety here. He’s angry, and he’s here to let you know about it.
Albarn doesn’t mince his words at any point. From the introduction to ‘Nineteen Seventeen’ “I see myself moving backwards in time today / From a place we can’t remain close to anymore” The Good, the Bad & the Queen are a political powerhouse but, unlike the post-punk revolution (of the likes of Idles and Shame), they don’t need to shout about it. They wrap it up in swirling ballads that deliver just as much ire as the current young guns on show.
It’s not all about Albarn, of course, and each and every member gets the chance to showcase their talents. While Simonon’s meandering basslines evoke an empty carousel twisting and turning depressingly, Allen’s lackadaisical drumming provides a jazzy aesthetic. Simon Tong’s springy guitar lines, meanwhile, arouse the suspicions that there’s an underlying happiness to this band’s joy of reigniting this supergroup.
Despite the star studded backing band, however, this does feel like another solo project from Albarn. Capturing some of the most iconic moments of his career; his witty take on Britain in Parklife, his iconic performance at Banksy’s fairground park ‘Dismaland’, and his drunken rant at this year’s BRIT Awards, Albarn is the man we need right now. With both his anger and love for our isles steeped in his beautiful lyrics, and a wonderfully surreal operatic backdrop juxtaposing the realism, Merrie Land is up there with Demon Days as Albarn’s finest work of the 21st century.