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As many of you will know I love THE DAMNED with a passion lasting over 20 years now so this opinion is going to be favourably biased. I also saw them play live again for the thirty-somethingth time just before Christmas and they seemed so tight, together and fresh, especially with this new material on the set-list, it was like seeing them for the first time again. "Grave Disorder", released in August 2001, is The Damned's first new studio album for umpteen years, there have been numerous live and best of compilations in the intervening years but very little fresh material. Before getting hold of this album I was a little dubious - were they flogging a dead horse? Have they strayed too far from their roots? Will they be too poppy? Too obscure? I need not have worried! The band have changed their line-up more times than I can count since their punk beginnings in 1976 with bassists coming and going a plenty, Captain Sensible leaving and joining again at least twice and, more recently, the departure of their original drummer, Rat Scabies. The line-up for this album consist of Dave Vanian (the only one!) on vocals, Captain Sensible on guitar, Patricia Morrison (ex-Sisters of Mercy and also Vanian's wife) on bass, Pinch (formerly of punk band English Dogs) on drums and Monty Oxy Moron on keyboards. The tracklisting for this album runs: Democracy Song.com Thrill Kill She Lookin for Action Would You be so Hot (if you weren't Dead?) Absinthe Amen Neverland Til The End of Time Obscene W Beauty of the Beast I am not going to analyse every track given that this opinion will become far too long if I do. As soon as the album kicks off with the storming "Democracy" you know The Damned haven't lost it - heavy musicianship with a stonking good tune, Vanian's glorious clear vocals urging you to sing along - it's great stuff. The re is very little of this album that I find disappointing - I think maybe the least memorable and immediate tracks are probably "She" and "Absinthe" but they are well redeemed by the rest of this marvellous rocking album! If you have any doubt of Dave Vanian's silken and glorious vocal style and capabilities the mournful "Til the End of Time" should put paid to that - shivers up the spine stuff! On the whole the rocking pace is kept up throughout, as it was live, with just a couple of slower tracks but they are by no means out of place and do not disappoint. The lyrics don't belong in the past either - they sing about the internet("Song.com"), organised religion ("Amen") and Michael Jackson ("Neverland") too! The album ends on a beautiful piano tickling note with "Beauty of the Beast" - again a slower number displaying Vanian's fantastic voice with light backing, chiefly tinkling piano, as the track charts the history of the band. I love this album to bits, one of those rare albums that hooks you in on the first play with tunes that pop into your head inadvertently during the day and make you want to pop it in the CD player and crank up the volume!
25 years on and the banner of the punk phenomenon is in the hands of a few teen bands along with the odd survivor from headier days. Rising like a phoenix from the ashes is The Damned. It's the late 70's and punk rock comes to town. 1976 and New Rose enters the top 100. It's one of the earliest mainstream punk hits (yeah, I know Lou Read and his Velvet Underground were doing their stuff even earlier but The Damned, Pistols, Clash etc are accepted by most observers as the pioneers of PR) and sets in motion a meteoric rise to stardom of one of the most original and innovative bands of their day. Conditions in the 70's were such that a backlash in musical terms was overdue to re-energise a flaccid pop culture that sighed with complacency. Chris Millar (Rat Scabies), Ray Burns (Captain Sensible), Brian James and David Vanian came together to play what James came to call "chaos music". Drawing on bands like The MC5, Iggy and the Stooges and the New York Dolls for influence, the raw crudeness of the Damned soon made waves in a sea that, for a few years, belonged to the likes of The Clash, Sex Pistols and others challenging the standards of that era. I saw the Damned appear at The Locarno in Birmingham in 1982. They appeared with *Anti Nowhere League and Charge GBH. Typically Damned, they turned up late and just about averted a riot as most of the crowd thought that they weren't going to show. Captain Sensible strummed his guitar avec yashmak (I love the Capitano); Dave Vanian belted out the songs with his usual graveyard tones; Rat Scabies thrashed the drums; can't remember who was on bass guitar as The D have had so many. I seem to recall The Captain playing Disco Man for "...a bloke at the bar who'd bought him a drink earlier." So to their latest effort - GRAVE DISORDER. Well, what can I say, The Damned are undead, long live The Damned! Aficionados of the band’s work will be familiar with stuff done during their pomp. Grave Disorder takes a fly by some of it including the immortal: "The Black Album"; "Strawberries"; "Phantasmagoria" and draws on the energy of "Machine Gun Etiquette" in parts. This is The D taking advantage of their extensive experience and musical know-how whilst coming into the 21st century. The Damned 2001 is: David Vanian ~ Lead vocals Captain Sensible ~ Guitar, backing vocals Patricia Morrison (DV’s missus) ~ Bass guitar, backing vocals Monty Oxy Moron ~ Keyboards, backing vocals Pinch ~ Drums, backing vocals Democracy? (3:21) blasts into place a la Ignite (Strawberries). It’s an anthemic start utilising The D’s greatest assets – strong drum beat; rocking guitar; Dave Vanian given free reign on vocals and thundering bass back-up. The song is a pot shot at parliamentary politics and politicians "...We’ve been down this road a million times/And yet there seems to be no hope for us/These times are hard and yet the few do well/The rest can wallow in the dust." Great start!! Song.Com (3:39) is a Vanian/Sensible production. This is the D brought up to date with a song about the Net. A great bass opening leads into a chorus driven piece that makes you wanna sing along. Classic Sensible with the first echoes of the "woo...ee..oo..oo.." banshee backing affects. "...Gotta hit the sites/Because I’m always surfin’/Surfin’ for my life." Outstanding. Can it get any better? Thrill Kill (5:37) picks up from Machine Gun Etiquette with its fantasy night-time stalker theme. The synth opening is almost lifted directly from 13th Floor Vendetta (Black Album) and fades into a strong bass line. The song has a Dragnet backdrop to it creating a feel of American cops on your tail as you wander the streets for your next vict im. She (4:27) gives the Captain a chance to let go with a melodic guitar intro. As you’d expect, there’s the arrival of drums and bass to gel a song together that amounts to a love story (make the most of it). "...She makes me fell like a king/She is the reasoning that makes life swing/She makes me feel like a king/She is the reasoning that makes life swing." Looking For Action (4:04) is a harem scarum piece thrashed at a million miles an hour. Dave V whips into a frenzy as the song descends into an anarchic finale. "I know it/You know it/They know it/I don't care." The lyrics are very stocatto giving the song its punchy feel. Would You Be So Hot (If You Weren’t Dead?) (4:13) is a Sensible set. The clue’s in the title as Capitano brings in some of his nifty guitar work including a sweet solo towards the end (a la "Under the Floor Again – Strawberries"). Nice backup from a tinkling piano adds to a high energy CS production. Absinthe (4:17) has a fantasy feel to reflect a song that’s about a bitter, green liquor containing anise and wormwood. A tinkling piano; strange voiceovers and a xylophone affect mirrors the psychedelic impact of the drink. This has a real Phantasmagoria feel to it. Absinthe is a highly hallucinatory drink that has its place in common folklore. The Damned pay due homage. Amen (7:55) is the longest set on the CD. It’s another chance for The D to get their teeth into the Church. Trademark monkish "ahs" provide the backdrop to a piece centred on the Captain getting carried away with his fender again. There’s a really melodic, instrumental add-on at the end of the song that doesn’t seem to really belong. Strong lyrics from Sensible/Pinch make for an excellent tune "...This is my house please come on in/It’s time to cleanse yourself of sin/Get thee down upon your knees/’cos non-belief is a disease, Amen." Neverland (3:31) is Sensible having an all too easy pop at Wacko Jacko "...Even when he’s telling you that black is white/Just some fancy dancing you can stop the fight/Grooving in the forest makes it all right/What a man, a big hand/Neverland, Neverland." It’s an up-tempo beat giving more reign to the Captain’s screaming guitar with a crescendo conclusion. ‘Till The End Of Time (3:51) slows things down with a synthy opening sliding into a DV croon. It’s got a Russian kinda feel and is another love song (yes, another one!). "I've woken from darkness with passion/You're surely to blame for it/This torture so wicked/You hurt me just for the hell of it." It's a moody, dark piece with overdubs to give it some layering. Obscene (2:46) is probably the weakest track on the CD. It’s a pacy rock piece that ultimately doesn’t go anywhere. The D seem to be having ago at those folks that can't except that life has moved on and the reality that they're not young any more. "But look - coming on the scene/Another cat to die for teenage dreams." W (5:05) is the W from God We Trust. It has a Jam-esque guitar opening which settles into a strong, anthemic tune which, I think, is about the president of the US "...In a two-horse race/If you bet each way/Could you maybe stay the distance/And if I should hide/From your puppeteers/Will they make me look ridiculous?" If I missed the point on this one then I apologise but, whatever, it’s a tuneful collaboration which is typically Vanian led with great Sensible vocal back-up. Beauty And The Beast (4:44) starts with a haunting piano eased along by a synth back-up. The instrumental start is broken by Dave V’s low growl in a sinister, gothic set. It's a celebration of those celluloid creatures that have come together to serve a purpose of exposing our great est fears "...Bela, Boris, Basil, Lon, Lorre, Vincent now all gone/Looming palid on the screen." This is a triumphant return to form for a band that has a special place in my heart. My recommendation to you is to give them a try. You’ll get 25 years of experience coupled with an undiminished desire to pump out great rock music. This is the best album I’ve heard for years but then The Damned is among my **favourite 2 bands of ALL TIME. Grave Disorder is available through HMV.com and retails at £15.99. *Anti Nowhere League were about to make it big by appearing on TOTP with a single called Third World War (I think it was called that...may have been World War III...anyway, the plug was pulled at the last minute and their career fizzled out from that point. The thin line between success and failure?) **The other band’s lead singer released an album consisting mainly of instrumental sets earlier this year. (?) Editor’s note ~ I never was a punk rocker although I loved the music. Besides, my mom wouldn’t have liked it.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
3 Thrill Kill
5 Lookin For Action
6 Would You Be So Hot
10 The End Of Time
13 Beauty Of The Beast