Anyone who remembers The Young Ones will know of the effect it had on launching and boosting the careers of the bands that appeared each week. It introduced Motörhead to an American audience, it got Madness their own series (almost), and it introduced a whole new generation to The Damned. They appeared on the Hallowe’en special in series two, and lit up the small screen with their relentless melodies and great presence.
Now, twenty-four years and several line-ups later, The Damned are back with their first album in seven years. Their previous effort, Grave Disorder, saw the band searching for a new sound in the first years of the twenty-first century, and met with lukewarm reviews. Having enjoyed them in their 1980s heyday, I was eager to see if any magic remained.
It doesn’t. Not on the first track, at any rate. With ‘A Nation Fit For Heroes’, David Vanian & co. carry on with the political moralising of the last record. That was released in the aftermath of George Bush’s controversial election, and so had some bite and relevance. This, on the other hand, comes as the Iraq War begins to fade from memory as the troops are slowly brought home. It sounds too much like a Billy Bragg knock-off to be worthy of a place in this band’s hall of fame.
It’s not just the opening track that fails to excite. There are numerous examples across this hotch potch of an album of the band either being lazy or trying too hard. ‘Shallow Diamonds’ is intended to be a dig at modern celebrity, but they feature lyrics like “Compressed carbon is what they are/ No more use than a candy bar, the awfulness of which belongs in chemistry lessons taught by teachers trying (and failing) to get down with the kids”.
At the other end of the scale, we have the fourteen-minute epic ‘Dark Asteroid’, which closes the album and leaves one feeling completely exhausted. There is nothing wrong with making songs that are fifteen or twenty minutes long, so long as they flow and sustain your interest. ‘Supper’s Ready’ by Genesis works in this respect because, despite clocking in at nearly twenty-three minutes, it’s constantly changing, keeping you guessing and rewarding your patience. This does none of those things – you will find yourself fast-forwarding through or skipping it all together, because the long solos are as pointless as the poor lyrics.
Buried beneath these ugly exteriors, there are some good tracks which will please both long-time fans and more casual spectators like me. ‘Dr. Woofenstein’ is pure 1980s fun, with a very catchy chorus and Vanian returning to full crooning form on vocals. ‘Since I Met You’ is a well-constructed piano ballad, with an opening which brings out the more graceful, cabaret side of the band. It’s a very easy song to fall in love with, even if only as a guilty pleasure tune.
Probably the best song on here, though, is ‘Nature’s Dark Passion’. Surrounded by pulsing bass chords and smoky keyboard soundscapes, Vanian rises out of the depths and delivers the lyrics somewhere between a bereaved husband and a Broadway superstar. It’s quite stylised, but not so much that it belongs in the annuls of Andrew Lloyd Webber. The first single, ‘Little Miss Disaster’, isn’t half bad either, despite conjuring up bizarre images of a Mr. Men series for goths. It’s a well-written pop song with heavy production, perhaps a little too slick to deflect all suspicions but well worth a look.
In all though, I’m not convinced by this album. I have no principled objection to bands from previous generations getting back together, but in The Damned’s case you are left wondering why they bothered. There are some good songs on here if you delve deeply, but even they come up with nothing to hold the attention of new listeners. Fans will, I daresay, lap this up, but otherwise all The Damned are on So, Who’s Paranoid? are pale versions of their past selves. So if you don’t mind, I’ll stick with the memories and go back to watching Rik and Ade.