Well I'm excited. You may remember the 2007 The Good, the Bad and the Queen album as being the best thing Damon Albarn has ever been involved with so it's a thrill to see this follow up also featuring the band of Paul Simonen, Tony Allen and Simon Tong. You can bet your bottom pound note that Albarn has something to say on the fall out on Brexit and here, the band promise a muted, lustrous take on affairs which looks at what can be salvaged from the mess.
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Look, I don't hate Damon Albarn ok? I just find it sickening that he's so obviously talented and relentless. Surely at some points in his life he wants a break from things? I have to admit I adored the first the Good, the Bad and the Queen album. It was so wonderfully dreary and perfectly soundtracked the England I remember from 2007 - dull, mild, wet and troubled.
So 11 years later and with the shambles of Brexit looming over us all it's probably a good time for a follow up. Damon Albarn has veered out of his London comfort zone and visited places like Blackpool and Preston to try to document the UK of 2018. You can't accuse him of hiding away in his mansion whilst people starve on the streets and there's an album to be made about the current shameful state of poverty in the UK but I'm not sure Merrie Land is the album.
Where their debut had great tunes and was based around gorgeous acoustic guitar plucks that the all star band built around, Merrie Land is less melodic, more sprawling and at times somewhat a slog. A plus point is that Tony Allen's superb drumming is much more noticeable here (he was barely there on the first album) but the aesthetic is often 'miserable fairground' particularly on The Great Fire which is like an attempt to update the Specials Ghost Town for 2008 consumption. The music is sprawling and so are the vocals - Albarn scat/sings throughout - cramming words into every available space...and perhaps for the first time in his career he sounds very whingy - his voice is often pitched at the same whine. For an artist usually so inspired he sounds at times like he's run out of ideas.
They band do come up with a unique sound between them that is often akin to a severely depressed Madness but it's often not all that enjoyable a listen. Perhaps though, like Low's 'Double Negative' the point has been to make a difficult, spiky album to soundtrack difficult times.
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