The Damned - So, Who's Paranoid?
When reading any of the plethora of punk memoirs, especially those of a London-centric bent, The Damned are nearly always mentioned somewhat sniffingly, their more anarchic (rather than Anarchic) antics proving less digestable than the more choreographed careers of some of their contemporaries. Nevertheless, hand-picked by The Melvins and Mike Patton for this year's All Tomorrow's Parties event, it suggests that there's still some residual affection for the band, who despite their japes always took their music pretty seriously.
2001's Grave Disorder was, for many, a solid comeback-album: the first time vocalist Dave Vanian and guitarist/vocalist Captain Sensible had worked together on a full-length since 1982's Strawberries - the last in a series of albums that had seen the band expand their palette beyond their Stooges / MC5 template to acknowledging they spent much of their formative years getting down to the hippie acts they were supposed to despise. After Sensible left the band in 1984, Vanian and fellow founder-member Rat Scabies had a couple of years-worth of major label success on the back of the Phantasmagoria album and a cover of Barry Ryan's "Eloise" but the 'curse of The Damned' struck soon after and they bumbled along on a series of never ending anniversary tours and dubious nostalgia.
The Damned's stength (or weakness depending on how you see it) was their ability to switch between two (and sometimes three!) chord garage punk with sophisticated and often quite experimental, albeit always melodic, neo-psych. This new album continues on this vein, but to less effect than previously.
"Dr. Woofenstein" is almost stranger than its title, an odd concoction that's part Moody Blues pomp and part-West End finale, an influence that carries over into "Since I Met You", a sacharrine ballad that would stretch the patience of even Andrew Lloyd Webber's most ardent brown-nose. Not even some Who-esque cynicism injected towards the end can save this turkey.
"Nature's Dark Passion" is infinitely more successful, a thermin-backed torch song that showcases Vanian's velvet baritone, more evidence that when given the right material he's one of the country's most underated - and distinctive - vocalists. Vanian could, if motivated to do so, pull out a fine solo album or do some interesting duets and collaborations in a Marc Almond style.
Some of the more uptempo tracks are a tad by-the-numbers but "Under The Wheels" and "Perfect Sunday", another entry in Sensible's wry commentaries on suburban life, should slot in well in the live context without being classic Damned anthems. Two out-and-out pop numbers - "Diamonds" and "Little Miss Disaster" - are better, the latter released as a one-off single a couple of years back, but refreshing and more vibrant in the context of the album than by itself. "Maid For Pleasure" is less excusable, a queasy tale of domestic servitude that's just one of a number of lyrical howlers.
Perhaps the key to any disappointment is the absence of Captain Sensible. For sure, his firework guitar is all over the place but he seems almost entirely absent vocally, his distinctive harmonies and backups replaced, it seems, by newer band members. This reaches some kind of climax on the closing track, the 14 minute "Dark Asteroid", part Barrett-era pop Floyd and post-Barrett freakout and probably voiced by drummer Pinch. However ingrained the new musicians are (and this version of the band have been together longer than many of the classic line-ups), it's hard to get past the fact that this just doesn't sound like The Damned, a criticism you've never been able to level at them, no matter how eclectic they've been in the past.