[20 August 2001]
The Damned are back. If that news excites you, then you’ll be happy to know that the regrouped punk band from days of yore have a new album out called Grave Disorder. It’s being hailed as the best Damned album since Machine Gun Etiquette and the Black Album. The Damned themselves are being touted as being at their creative peak with this release. New band member Pinch (drums) even has his own slice of the press kit pie with a full page detailing his tattoos. Still excited?
Well, there is a little cause for rejoice here. After all, Captain Sensible (guitar) and Dave Vanian (vocals and theremin) have been around the block a few times with this band. Give them credit for keeping fresh with the times. They didn’t implode like the Sex Pistols. They didn’t get pissed off at each other and go into self-destruct mode a-la the Clash. They just did their thing, released their albums, and kept up a formidable fan base with their goth-punk-rock tunes. The band is still “daring” as ever, rocking out while attempting to address some socio-political issues all at the same time.
“We’ve been down this path a million times / And yet there seems no hope for us / These times are hard and yet the few do well / The rest can wallow in the dust”, sings Vanian on the opening “Democracy” as Sensible and bassist (not to mention Vanian’s wife) Patricia Morrison rock it up in the background. It sounds convincing enough. Nothing like opening a new album with an old model of punkish delight (“Don’t tell me revolution changed a thing in France / ‘Cept for a king or two”).
Frankly, things begin to settle in on the second track, “song.com” which is about as current and topical as one could get. Amidst a tongue in cheek musical nod to surf guitar and Beach Boys harmonies, Vanian issues forth with his rant upon the Internet Age. “Chatting with a new made chum / Doesn’t know I look a bum / She thinks I’m 6 foot 3 / Look like Jason Priestly”. OK, that sentiment’s a bit dated, but give the guys a little leeway. After all, they have to catch up a bit to us after being absent for a while.
“Thrill Kill” also seems a bit lyrically dated with lines like “We’re just having some fun / Messing ‘round with a gun / Don’t get excited / I’m just killing some time / It’s a fantasy crime / And I’m living it again”. Perhaps the Internet and casual killing sprees are some of the hotter things to sing about when you’re in a band like this. Fortunately, the music wreaks better havoc as Pinch pounds up a great din and keyboardist Monty Oxy Moron throws in some solid work.
On “Would You Be So Hot (If You Weren’t Dead?)”, Sensible takes on the spectre of John Lennon and his post-mortem popularity. Says Sensible, “He wasn’t perfect - far from it. I think he would’ve agreed with that too and sneered.” Probably so. Still, it will probably raise enough hackles of Lennon’s many fans. But that track’s not even half as good as the sparkling “Looking For Action” that features Vanian’s over the top crooning and Monty Oxy Moron’s terrific keyboard work.
Of course, not everything here can be a winner. Both “Absinthe” and “Amen” are just too “serious” for their own good. “If you want to take a chance / Seduction’s in a glass / Taking you to another place” goes the chorus to “Absinthe”. “Amen” presents the worn out topic of religious hypocrisy. It seems that this subject would have been considered even too passé by The Damned, but this is not the case. “Come all ye faithful, heed the bells / This trip could save you all from hell / Burning crosses through the night / Come and join the holy fight, Amen”. It seems even more strained when hearing it issued by a band of older gents such as these. Still, there’s other interesting fare here, such as Pinch’s composition, “W” that was composed on a Sony Playstation music program (could it be MTV Music Generator?) and the closing “Beauty of the Beast”, a cheeky yet sincere ode to the bygone days of classic horror cinema. Not unlike an updated “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” with a bit more musical beef. Some things never change.
Grave Disorder is a nice little album. It’s really not The Damned’s best, but it does rock well and features some great melodies and musical bits along the way. It at least beats another Rolling Stones or Who reunion. At least Sensible and Vanian know how to create new music that’s interesting to listen to, even if some of the lyrical concerns are a bit yesterday-ish. The Damned still have a touch of the rock and roll ghost in them. Grave Disorder is certainly worthy of a good listen or two.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/damned-grave/