Almost two years ago I reviewed a really wonderful CD for Blogcritics called Greetings From Cairo Illinois by a man named Stace England. He used a variety of styles of American music to trace the history of what should have been a major industrial hub of the Midwest that has turned into an echo of its former prosperous self.
He researched and found old songs dating back to early settlement days, and wrote original music in styles that reflected the era of the events depicted. All in all it was an impressive effort to recreate time and place in music. After listening to the CD I was able to come away with an impression of the history of the city of Cairo, Illinois.
I mention this CD as a means of comparison for a disc that is being released this coming week on the Virgin label called The Good, The Bad, And The Queen featuring the talents of Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon, Tony Allen, and Simon Tong. The reason the comparison is appropriate is that according to Damon, who appears to have been the driving force behind the disc's creation, the disc is about West London and why he thinks it is such a special area to live in.
According to the promotional material, although the disc is specific to a geographical area, it draws upon the multitude of musical influences that have sprouted up in British popular music over the past century. It includes everything from the Music Hall tradition of World War Two through to the modern sounds of Punk, Afro-Beat, and Reggae, all of which was supposed to culminate into a depiction of what it is to be English now.
Having heard Stace English and his approach in the aforementioned Greetings From Cairo Illinois I was interested to see what these gentlemen came up with. London is such an ethnically diverse mixture – especially that neighbourhood which includes Portobello Market – and has such a fascinating history that the musical possibilities appeared endless.
Unfortunately they must have only seemed limitless in my mind.
When I hear the words, Punk, Reggae, Afro-Beat, and even Music Hall I expect music with a little life in its soul. Instead what you get on The Good, The Bad, And The Queen is what sounds like a series of songs slightly more energetic than your average dirge. Even making allowances for artistic license and a figurative rather than literal approach to the depiction doesn't explain away the lifelessness of the material.