The supergroup The Good, The Bad & The Queen has largely been forgotten these days, even though it has been less than a decade since their debut album; if they are remembered at all, it is solely as an odd footnote, only to be invoked when listing the wide variety of projects that frontman Damon Albarn has pursued outside of his original work with Blur. Damon was fresh off his recent work with Gorillaz, and at the time there were plenty of people that were intrigued to hear what the unconventional combination of Albarn with The Verve’s guitarist Simon Tong, The Clash’s bassist Paul Simonon, and Feta Kuli’s drummer Tony Allen would create. Most listeners probably did not expect the hazy and melancholic depiction of modern London that the album didn’t turn out to be, and as a result the record was left to be a curiosity to be occasionally puzzled over when stumbled upon in a record store’s bargain basement bin.
This album came out during my time working in radio, and I remember being one of those eager fans who feverishly anticipated its release. I ended up playing the single “Herculean” on our specialty music show for a few weeks, even though I found it to be a strange choice–though it had a nice groove and some pleasant melodic ideas, there was no real hook to draw in the listener. I borrowed a copy of the album for personal use, and eventually found it to be agreeable study music since it didn’t force me to shift away my attention from my reading.
My opinion of the album radically shifted the first time I listened to it on my iPod. Before, I only paid attention to the finger-picked acoustic guitar arpeggios of “History Song”, but now with the benefits of headphones I was greeted with a surprise in the first thirty seconds. Hey, I can finally hear Paul Simonon’s contributions to the album! When I was listening to the band either through the speakers in the studio or through my laptop, the mix was improperly balanced so that Simonon’s bass was swallowed up and barely noticeable. The speakers were usually not a problem, but there was a sweet spot where the particular tone and level of the bass didn’t come through on this album as it did on others (or I had been lazy with my listening and only could pay attention when I had speakers jammed into my ears for the first time–either explanation works). Simonon’s bass was a revelation, because it turned what I had previously perceived to be a gentle acoustic ballad into a dank, reggae song. Listening closely to his part, I was reminded of his classic Clash contribution “The Guns of Brixton”* and marveled at how his dub influences totally changed the feel of the song.
Now that I was fully alerted to Simonon’s presence, my opinion of the album completely shifted. His bass provided a captivating counterpoint to the album’s more prominent textures and melodies, and now that I could identify his bass lines, each song became much more compelling. Simonon is able to accomplish a lot even with relatively simple lines, as in the title track–the bass grounds the song even as everything is falling apart around it, making the overall effort much more effective.
The Good, The Bad & The Queen is proof then of how the bass can subtly affect the perception of an album–or that you need to make sure to listen to a record through several sets of speakers before finalizing your impression.
*Oh hey look, there’s Paul Simonon on one of the greatest album covers of all time! Remember that for all your future trivia needs.