Nothing to fear but fear itself
It’s been hard work being a fan of The Damned over the last few years, since the release of their last studio album ‘Grave Disorder’ back in 2001 there have been plenty of tours but precious little in the way of new material and with even the well received tracks from ‘Grave Disorder’ being dropped from the set they were in real danger of becoming little more than a nostalgia act.
So at last there’s a new album to get our teeth into but I must confess that first impressions were disappointing. The problem with The Damned is that they’ve done such a lot of really outstanding material that the expectation of the die hard fan is very high and on first listen you’re looking for the killer track or something that captured the fast & furious spirit of the early days and initially there isn’t anything that jumps out at you. Infact it’s the not so good moments that you notice first, such as the quite atrocious lyrics to ‘Diamonds’, there’s really no excuse for it and they are so bad that I simply can’t bring myself to quote them here! There’s also the chorus to ‘Little Miss Disaster’. which ruins what is otherwise a perfectly good song (although the verse is more akin to Captain Sensible’s solo material than The Damned).
The best albums however tend to be those that grow on you over a period of time and that’s exactly the case here, sure it took a good five or six listens but during every play I’d notice something else, another melody, a guitar lick or a great bridge. By the tenth spin I’m thinking this is undoubtedly the best Damned album since 1982’s ‘Strawberries’! The reason is that it sounds like the album that the band wanted to make rather than what they thought was expected of them, which is perhaps where 'Grave Disorder' fell down a little. Opening track ‘A Nation Fit For Heroes’ is one of the more instantly likeable tracks but is fairly standard fayre, whereas ‘Under the Wheels’ is just fantastic! It has everything you want in a Damned classic, a superb chorus, dynamics a plenty and it’s already destined to become a firm fan favourite.
There’s real variety on this album and quite a few surprises, not least in ‘Dr. Woofenstein’, which seems to be the marmite song of the album! I really wasn’t sure about it at first with it’s uncharacteristic singalong chorus and Vanian’s relaxed crooning in the verse but it’s the one song that you find yourself singing in your head without realising it, it‘s unbelievably catchy. Even the lyrically abysmal ‘Diamonds’ is saved by a great melody but mid way through the album it’s the breakout of the verse in ‘Since I met You’ that steals the show; it’s simple and ascending but it’s quite brilliant with Sensible delivering a trademark solo in the middle section. Remembering a pre release interview I’m wondering where the heavy material is hiding and it’s not until ‘A Danger to Yourself’ and ’Maid for Pleasure’ that it really emerges. Don’t get too excited, it’s not breakneck hell for leather but they would probably nestle quite nicely amongst the ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’ track list.
‘Nature’s Dark Passion’ harks back to the 80s gothic period with simple piano supporting Vanian, building to a rousing crescendo, it’s reminiscent of ‘Sanctum Sanctorum’ and adds nicely to the variety. ‘Just Hangin’ is one of the weaker tracks overall but even here there is some really nice phrasing in the vocals that gets you nodding along. Penultimate track ‘Nothing’ has more than a slight feel of ‘Street of Dreams’ about its opening chords but that’s where the resemblance ends as it turns into the fastest track on the album, this is the one that would have got the pit going back in the day! So it’s on to the final track and the biggest surprise; ‘Dark Asteroid’ weighs in at a hefty 14 minutes and is really a song in two halves, the first being an early Pink Floyd inspired psychedelic ditty where Vanian’s voice has a real early Bowie feel to it. Again it takes a few listens but the first part is just superb, perhaps drawing a little more from the Naz Nomad period, it has a great melody and Monty’s keyboards give it a real psyche feel. The second part is a complete departure and is basically a ten minute space rock jam that would fit comfortably on any Hawkwind album!
Overall this is exactly the album I wanted to hear from The Damned, it’s reaffirmed my faith in them as a relevant band and displays the kind of variety and song writing ability that was long their trademark. The days of widespread commercial appeal are long gone and they’ve been out of vogue for so long that it wouldn’t matter how good the album was, it would still be overlooked by the wider populous. However, by & large it’s the die hard fans that keep The Damned in business and there is enough on this album to please them all and to bring a few old sceptics like me back into the fold. Excellent stuff and a late contender for album of the year.