THE DAMNED’S PSYCH REBIRTH!
The English punk institution breaks a decade of silence, with Tony Visconti!
For The Damned, the last two years have involved much retrospection, with 40th anniversary touring, reissues and even a talk at the British Library focusing on punk and their place in it. “People love to see us live,” muses vocalist Dave Vanian, “but it’s like performing the same play over and over. And it’s been such a long time since The Damned have made an album…” Ten years, to be precise, since the release of So, Who’s Paranoid? To rectify – “I badgered them into it a little bit!” says Vanian – the group entered Atomic Sound in Brooklyn in early October 2017 to make use of its original Neve desk, valve gear and bestiary of vintage instruments and microphones. They had some serious assistance: Bolan/Bowie producer Tony Visconti. “He actually said yes without even hearing anything,” says the singer. “In fact, he said, ‘Why didn’t you ask me a long time ago?’” Recording was something of a seat-of-pants experience: there are four writers in the group, and when work began, Vanian, guitarist Captain Sensible, keyboardist Monty Oxymoron, drummer Pinch and prodigal bassist Paul Gray had yet to play some of the demo’d songs together. Also, Vanian speaks of doing “a month’s worth of recording in nine days, doing 10 hours and two tracks a day.” The potential for discord was clear. Yet it seems there wasn’t time to argue. Says Captain Sensible, “It wasn’t long before the old magic reappeared. We mainly stuck to arranging our own tunes which – and this always amazes me – took on the Damned sound immediately we gave them a bash.” Vanian describes that sound as, “a mix of all our best bits from Phantasmagoria  to The Black Album [’80]. Chock full of melody and guitar licks with a lot of ’60s psychedelic feel. There’s rawness, but anyone looking for out-and-out raucousness and nothing else might not be so happy.” Lyrically, there are references to the uncertain state of global politics and other paranoia-inducing issues – one song relates to the self-beaching of whales and dolphins – but Vanian stresses that they’re leavened with positivity: “You’ve got to have optimism, otherwise we’re just drowning in despair!”
“IT WASN’T LONG BEFORE THE OLD MAGIC REAPPEARED.”
The Captain cites Visconti, who mixed the album in November in New York, as a stabilising influence. “He’s been there and done it all but is still a nice affable chap to work with. In another life the bloke would’ve made a decent psychiatrist. His pitch is great too, so we’ve had him in on a few backing vocal takes.” Visconti’s pal/muse Kristeen Young also lends vocal colour. As well as the album’s 10 tracks, another 20-odd recordings may emerge later as an EP/ download. Forty-two years on from New Rose, it only remains to ask, as one of the original class of ’76, do they feel they still have points to prove? “I don’t know about that,” says Vanian. “But I still feel we can create good music. You either stop and just play the hits and be a wonderful nostalgia band – ‘Oh, wasn’t New Rose great?’ – or you keep pushing boundaries for yourself. So, we go forward.”