All the things people accuse Damon Albarn of being – calculating, pretentious, arrogant – are actually the things that are good about him. Who else, apart from an artistically inclined clever-clogs with unlimited self-belief, would dare get both Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen and heroic Clash bassist Paul Simonon in the same band to animate their musings on our capital city? And Damon’s boldness has been repaid: the brilliance of new single ‘Herculean’ – a plaintive meditation on the love, drugs, drudgery and hope of London life – makes Britpop sparring partners Oasis look like the superannuated school bullies they now are.
As Damon, ex-Verve guitarist Simon Tong and the aforementioned legends take to the stage in black suits and top hats, Albarn announces that they’re going to play the whole album in order and kicks off with ‘History Song’ – its slow-burning beauty setting the tone. It’s a shame the lights remain on all night (thanks to the fact it’s being filmed) as album ‘The Good, The Bad And The Queen’ provides a late-night listen – the mood ranging from tender melancholy (‘Northern Whale’, about the beast marooned in the Thames earlier this year) to stoned small-hours paranoia (‘Kingdom Of Doom’). Simonon’s bass is high in the mix, and he still throws mesmerising Clash shapes, but Allen and Simon Tong don’t impose anything overly indulgent or fancy on these delicate songs. In fact, it seems that they’re not virtuoso enough for Damon, who orders a couple of tracks to be started again because they’ve seemingly messed them up. His obvious displeasure (“Focus! Focus!”) rather spoils the mellow atmosphere – and gives more ammunition to those who think he’s too uptight to be genuinely great – but between strops and audience murmurings there was enough to suggest that in ‘The Good, The Bad And The Queen’ Damon has defied the haters and pulled it off again.