The Damned are one of those iconic bands who have been around forever and may well have done everything. Their early days, starting in 1976, including releasing the first British punk single, New Rose, and the first British punk album, Damned Damned Damned. A decade later, they moved into goth and, eventually, into a more psychedelic take on both punk and goth. They're an idiosyncratic band, partly because of that unique blend of styles and partly because it all sits behind the iconic smooth voice of Dave Vanian, the band's mainstay since their inception.
Vanian has kept the band alive ever since, through they've never been particularly prolific. This is their twelfth studio album in a career that's now closing in on half a century, their first since Evil Spirits in 2018. It's a varied affair, as you might expect, veering from punk to goth and back again, with psychedelic sections here and there and a surprising dip into what sounds to me like fifties pop.
I've read that they aimed for the seventies here a lot, but You're Gonna Realise and Beware of the Clown both sound older to me, like they're fifties songs shifted into a goth punk style, almost as if these are covers of songs that didn't exist until now. Western Promise is the most fifties, because it's a ballad at heart, with Vanian's croon at the fore and a smoky use of brass late on. In between the fifties sound I'm hearing here and the seventies sound they aimed at, there are songs such as Follow Me that have a sixties garage rock drive to them, in addition to the seventies punk that saw that as an influence.
Perhaps surprisingly, I tend to dig the more extreme songs here. I've been struggling for a couple of weeks with illness, my energy levels sapped, so I've been listening to this album for much longer than I'd normally allocate a new release and it's become something of an old friend. It's telling to say in that context that I haven't tired of any of these songs, though some are clearly better than others. While I didn't have the energy to write it up sooner, it wouldn't have been difficult to turn it off and I simply didn't want to. It's a strong album that doesn't get old.
But it's the songs at the extremes that have stayed with me most. Western Promise is the softest piece here, so probably the least likely to engage me but it's a firm favourite. At the other end of the spectrum, The Invisible Man and Motorcycle Man stand out as rockers. The former is a strong opener, a punky goth rock song that ramps up halfway and gets even more interesting. While the back end's going rockabilly, the front end's getting mystical. Motorcycle Man changes too, from a truly emphatic opening with a riff so punk that it's almost metal—no, it's not the Saxon song—to eventually become a laid back sort of beach song.
They're far from all that's going on here though. Bad Weather Girl ratchets down the tempo after the opener and adds a spooky keyboard backing. It's dark carnival music with an old school guitar solo right out of psychedelic rock. Walk the Dead is very seventies, trawling in a prog atmosphere remiscent of Pink Floyd and occasionally Genesis. Apparently Captain Sensible, on his third stint in the band, learned that fans were having Damned songs played at funerals, so decided to write one specifically for that purpose. Overall, it's as pure goth as this album gets.
Roderick closes out the album in fascinating style, as unusual as Leader of the Gang isn't a couple of songs before it. The latter is all about the meteoric rise and fall of the un-late and un-lamented Gary Glitter and feels as seventies as it should. The former, though, opens up as spoken word with accompaniment. It's a dramatic horror performance that becomes a song, Vanian's voice backed by a solo piano, only to transform into a ritual chant in Latin. Then it builds substantially to strings, with ebow guitar from producer Thomas Mitchener and more trumpet from Chris Coull, as enticing here as on Western Promise. And, with all that said, it's often rather like an unconventional James Bond theme. There's a lot here.
Now I have energy back again, it's going to feel odd moving on from this new old friend to listen to something else, but I'm a few weeks behind on my reviews and need to at least attempt to catch up a little and get back on track. I've always liked the Damned but I've never really dug properly into their work, merely enjoyed it when I've noticed it. Clearly, I should be paying more attention. The joyous jam in the second half of Girl I'll Stop at Nothing is worth the cost of the album all on its own, and that doesn't scratch the surface of what it has to offer.