The Good, The Bad & The Queen’s self-titled debut record, released in 2007, was a fog-filled journey through the winding backstreets of London that revelled in the poetry of everyday life, backed by scattershot folk-rock compositions. Arriving as the planet teetered on the brink of a devastating financial crash and austerity policies dominated political discourse, the relationship between the capital and the rest of Britain dominated the well-received “song-cycle”.
Now, on new album ‘Merrie Land’, the British identity is once again pulled into focus by the group, comprised of Blur and Gorillaz man Damon Albarn, The Clash’s Paul Simonon, former Verve member Simon Tong and Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen. The backdrop of 2018 finds them and us in slightly different footing, but faced with a complex platform to bounce off.
It’s not the first album that’ll reference Brexit, and while some, like Idles’ ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’, are relatively frank in a manifesto of love and unity, few will silently despair quite like the muddled ‘Merrie Land’ does. There are references to leaders who are “disconnected and raised up in mansions”, but if you’ve come for on-the-nose commentary, you’ll likely not find it here.
Albarn’s lyrics have long had a sense of place (see Blur’s 1997 song ‘Essex Dogs’ Gorillaz’s concept album ‘Plastic Beach’, most of ‘Parklife’) and ‘Merrie Land’ continues to be inspired by observations from travels in the North of England and, in particular, Blackpool. Those seaside towns have seemingly had the most lasting impact on the foursome, because most of this album would quite easily soundtrack an abandoned carousel at the end of a windswept pier. It’s charming on the surface, but beyond the title track and ‘Lady Boston’, it begins to wear thin quicker than a seagull nosediving to your soggy paper of chips.
Ruminations on a post-Brexit nation from a bunch of middle-aged musicians is, perhaps, less essential than it seems to deem itself, but there are probing thoughts and moments to make it worth sticking with. The nation’s changing faster than this band’s approach to albums, but it’d be interesting to see a follow-up to after the deed is done next March.