Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Good, the Bad and the (Speed Mc)Queen

The rock n roll super group is a mercurial beast. A seemingly brilliant idea--take a handful of rock demi-gods, put em all together and see what comes out--that rarely comes off as much worth writing home, or the NME, about. Take the bland dad-rock of the Travelling Wilburys (Dylan, Orbison, Petty and Harrison; that's three freaking rhythm guitarists! Thank Jesus Jackson Browne stayed away.), the besotted Scots that brought us The Reindeer Section (members of Arab Strap, Belle and Sebastien, Teenage Fanclub, Mogwai and Snow Patrol), and two recent American alterna-cock rockers: Audioslave (Rage Against the Machine plus Soundgarden's Chris Cornell) and Velvet Revolver (Stone Temple Pilots' Scott Weiland plus Guns N Roses), and you'll see the clear flaws in the formula. Billy Corgan made a half-way decent bid for post-Pumpkins fame with his indie-bolstered guitar hero outfit Zwan (Corgan with members of the Pumpkins, Slint, A Perfect Circle, Tortoise), but it came off as little more than the Billy show, his signature solos drowning out the contributions of his perfectly able bandmates.

All this brings me to what may very well be the most exciting/potentially disappointing album of 2007: the eponymously titled The Good, the Bad and the Queen. Any fan of rock n roll from across the pond is bound to swoon at this Britpop supergroup consisting of Simon Tong (guitars for The Verve), Paul Simonon (bass for The Clash) and the inestimable Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) all produced by Danger Mouse (Gorillaz, Gnarls Barkley, The Gray Album). With a pedigree more impressive than the titular regent's corgies, has this group got anything in them?

The answer is a resounding YES! Albarn takes up the songwriting duties, and it feels assuredly like a latter-day Damon-fest, a la Blur's Think Tank or the moodier, grayer moments of the two recent Gorillaz albums. But the shimmery textures of Tong's guitars (think a less raucous A Storm in Heaven, ah when The Verve was a shoegaze band!), Simonon's sedately bouncy bass (for all his fury in The Clash, the man did write some groovy licks), and Damon, in full-on dreary music hall bounce, are one tight unit. It's not the brightest stuff he's done, no use looking for a Country House or Song Two, though he does create, and sustain a mood at once urgent and sublimely grimey. I'd hate to call it post-Blur, who wants to believe that they're really done, but Damon does seem to have hit his stride taking a break from his longtime bandmates. Well done, lads. A super group indeed.


betty in beddy said...

thanks so much for the recommendation, speed. i wouldn't take it from anyone else, and now i can't wait to hear it. just dozing in bed today with painkillers, noir movies, and the latest issue of dwell. will keep you posted...what else are you listening to

- the one armed bandit

Nancy D., Girl Detective said...

Oy, Betty, have I got a story for you! Turns out my very sophisticated British j-school friend was a rabid britpop fan and spent her teenage years following the bands around London clubs. I told her I knew someone who would swoon with envy (but try not to swoon, it might be dangerous at the moment).