Friday, March 12, 2010

Damned - Damned Damned Damned

The Damned became the first British punk band to release any vinyl when their single “New Rose”/”Help” (the Beatles song at hyper-speed) hit the streets in late 1976. Of course, the Ramones and other NYC bands had already produced several slabs of vinyl by this time, but the fledgling British scene was a bit behind the Americans. The Damned also managed to have the first British punk full length with this album. Considering that this was done in 1977 and they are still playing shows 33 years later, they have shown a longevity that is unequaled, as far as I know.

This record is one of my faves of the British first wave of punk. Obviously influenced by the Detroit proto-punk bands (even doing the Stooges “1970”, re-titled as “I Feel Alright”) as well as the Ramones and horror movies, these cats had a sound and practically a virtuosity compared with some of the other punk acts. Rat Scabies was a phenomenal drummer in a Keith Moon style and Brian James tossed off manic power-riffs with plenty of flash and panache. Captain Sensible held down the bass fort solidly (he later surprised me by becoming a terrific lead guitarist for the group – I didn’t know he had it in him!) and singer Dave Vanian had style to spare. A great congregation of players and characters.

While I’m sure I’ve heard the original singles at some point, I don’t own them so I can’t compare them to the album versions, though I’m pretty certain that they are different. But the full length kicks off with a viciously maniacal “Neat Neat Neat”, showing the band at their best – fast, loud and crazed, but with real lyrics and good sense of dynamics and just damned good!

They’re a bit moodier on the minor-key homage to their audience in “Fan Club”, a song with truly clever chord changes and riffs. Blasting through the good, but not super memorable, “I Fall”, then their classic “Born to Kill”, that has even more nasty energy before continuing in this violent vein with “Stab Your Back”, a super short explosion of power and speed.

Slowing it down for the gloomy, pre-goth sounds of “Feel the Pain” (yes, James seems to have been obsessed with violence), they retain their strength and give another great performance, not dissimilar to the Dead Boys’ “Not Anymore”. Up next is their pounding second single, “New Rose”, a much-covered masterpiece of the punk era. The speed doesn’t let up for the misogynist paean “Fish” or the wild “See Her Tonight”, but the guys manage to maintain melodies and interesting arrangements, even if they flash by almost before you can process them. Reducing the speed minimally for “1 of the 2”, it remains maddenly crazed with super-sonic riffs and wild drums. All these characteristics continue for “So Messed Up”, which increases its pace to “blinding” and includes a clever false ending.

The album closes with their Stooges tribute, though I don’t know whether the name change was in order to avoid paying royalties or simply because they didn’t want to back-date the album. Nonetheless, it is a monstrous verson and a hip reference point for those of us who loved the roots of this “new” punk rock. The wonderfully chaotic collapse of an ending is a perfect closing for the record, as well!

An absolutely essential punk record that ranks right up there with the best of the time. I’m told that they are still wild and fun in concert, as well!