Damon Albarn first convened the Good, The Bad & The Queen -- a collective featuring drummer Tony Allen, former Clash bassist Paul Simonon and ex-Verve guitarist Simon Tong -- in the mid-2000s, when a heavy cloud hung over the world. Things haven't gotten better in the decade separating the group's eponymous 2007 debut and its long-awaited sequel, 2018's Merrie Land. Nationalism swept across the globe, taking root in the twin 2016 disruptors of the election of Donald J Trump in the U.S. and the Brexit campaign in the U.K. Albarn designed the Good, The Bad & The Queen as a way of addressing the woes of England -- their first album was a song cycle about London -- so Britain's choice to leave the European union as a way to preserve their national identity proved to be catnip for the singer/songwriter. Merrie Land teams with diminishing expectations and heightened nostalgia, its songs challenging the notion that the good old days ever existed. Grim notions, to be sure, but Merrie Land doesn't sound especially bleak. Certainly, it isn't as spooky as the Good, The Bad & The Queen's 2007 affair, and that's partially due to the group choosing Tony Visconti as their producer instead of Danger Mouse. Visconti sharpens the articulation of Albarn's sad, sardonic songs yet also allows plenty of space for Simonon and Allen to roam, their freedom lending the music a suppleness that counteracts the album's inherent melancholy. Indeed, Merrie Land never feels haunted: Albarn faces the regressive politics of Brexit with gallows humor, resolution, empathy, and a stout heart that finds its match in the careening, evocative music of his group. He's mined this territory before, notably in Gorillaz's Demon Days, yet the very fact that the Good, The Bad & The Queen function as a band, drawing strength from their own interplay, gives Merrie Land a human resonance that echoes long after the final song ends.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine