NOW PLAYING: The Good, The Bad, and The Queen

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[NOW PLAYING ON PHAWKER RADIO]

In 1993, it was with little left to lose that Blur?s Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon ? bottom of the bill at an Xfm fundraiser in Finsbury Park ? gave the premiere of a new song to a small, indifferent crowd. Entitled For Tomorrow, it was a sad little love song to the city on which Albarn so desperately wanted to make his mark.

If there was a hitherto untapped passion in the way Albarn sang the line about ?hanging on for dear life?, it was hardly surprising. That was him there, forlornly throwing out one last seed into the arid popscape of Britain.

We scarcely need dwell on what happened next. In years to come they?ll be teaching it on the national curriculum. Britpop?s narrative arc suggests triumphal times, but when all?s said and done, anyone squeezing Albarn?s best bits onto one CD-R will find nary a jaunty song among them.

When it comes to The Good, the Bad & the Queen, it?s a matter of pressing play on History Song ? an opening-credits murmur of portent lent just enough sweetness by Simon Tong?s acoustic motif ? and giving in to the gentle tidal pull of what follows. To borrow from the words of that Italian troubadour Paolo Conte, this is ?rusty music, blackish, hot painted with soot?, set in a city of old ghosts and half-remembered biography.

On the achingly sad Nature Springs, Albarn sings the line ?Oceanographers are charting the rise of the seas? as though he had found the words on a scrap of paper after some great flood.

Listening to Northern Whale ? a requiem to the creature that swam to its end in London last year ? you almost wonder whether it happened at all, such is Albarn?s ability to cast a dreamlike pall over the whole saga.

But if the songs flow from the pen of one man, this is no solo project. In fact, Paul Simonon and Tony Allen are key here. On Herculean and History Song the lugubrious rumble released by the iconic Clash bassist is like the Thames mud to the flow of Albarn?s lovelorn London lullabies ? while Allen?s subtle, shape-shifting rhythms sharpen the spooked, scratchy ambience.

[Via The Times Of London]

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