October, 1980 saw the release of The Black Album, the fourth studio album from The Damned. Produced largely by the band themselves along with some notable assistance from Hans Zimmer who would later write soundtracks for blockbusters The Dark Knight and Inception.
The first five albums by The Damned offer a great musical development of an often under rated outfit. They really should be national treasures but are treated, largely, as Punks most ignored original exponents. They have humour, character, style, great artwork and, most importantly – made some great music.
The Black Album, when I got into The Damned as a teenager was deleted and actually hard to find in its original format on sale. A non-gatefold double album, with its evocative, gothic sleeve could be seen at Record Fairs but its price was way above the weekly pocket-money range. It took me about a year to find the album at an affordable price, 2nd hand, from Icicle Records in Birmingham. It is fair to say the mystique around the album actually outweighs its material, nevertheless it still is a great album.
Wait For The Blackout is a great album opener with its bouncy, lively sound and feel. The vibe is somehow darker than The Damned had sounded on their previous records.
Lively Arts keeps a lively tempo and with its speedy violin backing is, as the title suggests, more arty than The Damned had ever sounded.
Silly Kids Games sees Captain Sensible take the vocal duties in true pop fashion. The chorus almost has a kids television theme quality about it.
Drinking About My Baby with its Dave Vanian snarl still stays in dark pop territory. Melody and mood meet perfectly to form a blend that enriches The Black Album yet further.
Twisted Nerve feels like a more sinister elder brotherly relative of These Hands from Machine Gun Etiquette. Its tempo wavers and again the song works well to make the album yet more moody and diverse.
Hit Or Miss is really a hidden Damned classic. Urgent, tuneful and steeped in punk tradition.
Dr. Jeckyll And Mr. Hyde and The Black Album gets more musically abstract. Soft and gothic the song, despite its soft overall sound has dark pop qualities.
Sick Of This And That is jagged and punky. Gone is the cartoon punk of Machine Gun Etiquette and this song offers a rich rumbling sound.
History Of The World Part 1 is one of the best Damned songs ever written. Mixing the whole formula of The Black Album the song not only has fantastic lyrics but they are so well delivered by Dave Vanian that I really cannot work out why it was not a smash hit single. Pulsing waves push the song on and on. Chants and musical staggered changes twist the song yet it always stays in punk / pop territory. ‘Adam Chance and Zorrro, take them with a pinch of salt’.
13th Floor Vendetta and The Black Album veers into a more arty sound. Hushed vocals, ticking effects and acoustic instrumentation make for a rare Damned sound.
Therapy has a wig-out vibe and teases with its ‘Love Song’ lift before racking up the sound range. The song burns out with stereophonic guitar noises that mark how much the band have moved into experimentation.
Talking of experimentation, Curtain Call is the longest song The Damned have ever recorded. At over 17 minutes in length the band risk becoming a punk Pink Floyd but astonishingly pull it off well. Evocative and yet more gothic imagery the track builds to a poppy punk blast before veering off for a long period of experimental punk sounds. The pace rises again and the Curtain Call falls again. The bouncy, feelgood, dark vibe succeeds and the key part of Curtain Call works very well at Damned gigs when aired.
6 live songs occupy Side 4 of The Black Album and these takes are better known for their part on the Live At Shepperton album.
The Black Album will always occupy a very, very special place for me. I listen to it rarely these days yet few albums have ever caught my imagination like this hard to track down gem from 1980…