PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

The Good, the Bad & the Queen  Tackle England, Englishness, and the Impact of Brexit on 'Merrie Land'

Photo courtesy of the artist

As a reflection on Brexit, the Good, the Bad & the Queen's Merrie Land succeeds through musicianship whilst fear and concern permeate its messages on England and Englishness amidst uncertainty and departure.

Merrie Land
The Good, the Bad & the Queen

Studio 13

16 November 2018

Twelve years after the Good, the Bad & the Queen first appeared, the band returned with Merrie Land in late 2018, an album written and recorded in a reflection on England and Englishness following the Brexit vote in the summer of 2016. Damon Albarn, with Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen, Clash bassist Paul Simonon, and Verve guitarist Simon Tong, craft a dreary calm and downcast demeanor on Merrie Land and achieve no indication of diminishing output quality despite the album released barely six months from the Gorillaz' The Now Now, itself only 14 months after Gorillaz' Humanz. Where those two records highlighted different levels of presence for Albarn, with the Good, the Bad & the Queen, his vocals and lyrics are precisely in sync with Allen's, Simonon's, and Tong's instrumentation and arrangement driving the mood and atmosphere on Merrie Land.

Nostalgia is smeared across the tracks and concept on Merrie Land: an album at once documenting life in England in the wake of Brexit while lamenting the uncertainty and unknown realities faced by the English people as the nation barrels toward leaving the EU this Spring. Albarn's lyrics hauntingly depict the loneliness he's witnessed in English life and presumed isolation once Brexit is fulfilled. The album has been described as an update on Blur's Parklife, albeit in dark tones and lamentations instead of the brash swagger and optimism performed by a younger Albarn. The nostalgia for a lost sense of England arrives immediately with the album's introduction and the title track. A quote from the 1944 film A Canterbury Tale, itself a romanticized vision of England during World War II – i.e. when England fought to save Europe – leads into "Merrie Land": "And especially, from every shire's end of England, the holy blissful martyr for to seek. That them had helped them when that they were weak…"

"Merrie Land" is about Brexit directly, plotting out the possible outcomes and commenting on the necessary realities and hardships that will face the English once departure from the EU is completed. Albarn's lyrics move from wistful imagery of an idealized "Merrie England" of paintings and politicized progress to pleas for the listener as he details stark alternatives of pollution and border checks. The following track, "Gun to the Head", moves into the alternatives directly and violently, with warnings against trespassers and dreary realizations of decline and disunity. The two tracks led the promotion singles ahead of Merrie Land, illustrating the album's reflections and focus on Brexit, but with the remainder of the album, neither fits in directly with the following tracks.

The album feels unnaturally front heavy and when the organ re-enters on "Nineteen Seventeen", there is a definite need for recalibration and reignition. This song presents a comparison with the impact and destruction caused by the World Wars in Europe with the modern state of England. The connection between England and France are tight in "Nineteen Seventeen", with the effects and actions taken in World War I unaccounted for a forgotten as England barrels toward Brexit. A gloom flows in with "The Great Fire" and Albarn sings of what is being lost as England changes around its inhabitants, or the reality of England's appearance is increasingly revealed as its inhabitants confront decisions made and the impacts carried. "Lady Boston", appearing as a sweet tune midway through the album was influenced by a painting in Penrhyn Castle, in Wales, yet hides the disagreement regarding England now and England in Brexit, and laments the turn of events

With these three tracks and the remainder of Merrie Land, instrumentation, musicianship, and the production and mixing stand out as important strengths grounding and propelling the album. The directness of the first two tracks is less pronounced as the album progresses, and tracks like "Drifters & Trawlers" remain melancholy, but with tighter performances and lyrics that relate better to day-to-day activities more so than the promoted reflections on Brexit. However, "The Truce of the Twilight" returns to documenting the predicted changes in England with departure from the EU completed, opening with "Enjoy it while it lasts because soon it will be different …" It's a different kind of track from the opening pair though, with sweeter nostalgia and softer pleading before closing with a back and forth refrain questioning what has happened while acknowledging changes.

Brexit and nostalgia dominate Merrie Land, particularly through Albarn's lyrics and moody deliveries. On "Ribbons" and "The Last Man to Leave" he sings sweeter and harsher tunes respectively about the connections England holds with Scotland and Wales being the only kept direct relationships upon Brexit, and then admits his dislike of Brexit and yearning to see England stay in the EU. He is effectively "the Last Man to Leave" the EU with his fellow 48% of the voting population. The album closes with "The Poison Tree", perhaps the best track on Merrie Land and one full of hope and despair in Albarn's lyrics, and the strongest musical performance by the band on the album.

Merrie Land evokes a perfect reflection of Brexit by Damon Albarn, connecting to his long career from Blur through Gorillaz and into the Good, the Bad & the Queen. Yet, the album's success is not through him singly, rather the collaboration gained with the other members of this supergroup. The music performed by Allen, Simonon, and Tong, holds a strong presence on the album, necessarily complementing Albarn's lyrics while simultaneously crafting a modern folk sensibility. Allen's drums are ever-present but occasionally subdued to emphasize organ, guitar, and bass performances. Simonon's bass and Tong's guitar serve to give Albarn's organs, pianos, mellotrons, and other keyboard instruments grounding when the lyrics stray to angry or dejected. The Good, the Bad & the Queen's return is equally worth celebrating, even if the lyrics root Merrie Land very much in a 2018 mindset, the stylistic and genre contributions to British folk and nostalgic musicality are immense and take the reflections on Brexit into Albarn's intended reflections of England and Englishness.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.