Some things are eternal, like teenage rebellion, youthful exuberance, and bad hair days. Judging from the evidence, The Damned belong on the list as well, having enjoyed all three for more than a quarter of a century. As old-school as the Sex Pistols or The Ramones, their song “New Rose,” was the first punk single released in England, and their album, Damned Damned Damned was the first full-length. Along the way they’ve seen more fights, break-ups and reconciliations than Elizabeth Taylor, but nobody’s wheeling them around!
Still infused with the piss and vinegar of young revolutionaries, The Damned never really dabbled in punk’s politics, preferring the sodding raunch of rock ‘n’ roll with a bucketful of bad attitude. Yet, if time hasn’t mellowed the band, it’s mellowed the members; the result has been a remarkably steady lineup for the past five years and their first new album in even longer, Grave Disorder.
“This has been about the happiest lineup of The Damned, though I don’t know if that’s a good thing to say,” says Captain Sensible, the band’s mercurial guitarist. “People want to hear that we’re constantly fighting and banging each other in the head with whiskey bottles–like we used to. But it’s quite a jolly lineup this one. We’re all giving it our best shot. You don’t get too many chances with record labels in show biz, especially if you’ve got the kind of history The Damned has of auto-destructing.”
They’re also notorious for their youthful pranks, internal bickering and stage antics. Sensible, who’s been known to strip onstage, describes a gig years ago in Phoenix “where I invited the audience on stage and when it was over there was nothing left. Just carnage. Not even a microphone cable. But I always thought being in a band was like being perpetually 22 years old; you don’t have to be responsible, you could be a juvenile delinquent for the rest of your life. It’s kinda nice.”
Singer Dave Vanian, whose penchant for theatrics expresses itself in a vampiric-horror movie wardrobe and gothic vocal style, infuses the new album with his trademark tongue-in-cheek moribundity on tracks like “Thrill Kill,” and “The End of Time.” But ’50s-fueled thrash pushes songs like “Democracy” and “Song.Com” squarely into the punk category. Sensible describes the new album by saying, “It doesn’t sound like anything we’ve done before but it still has that Damned edge.” Indeed, The Damned has been around so long it’s pointless to pigeonhole them.
“We make kind of this glorious noise, and the tunes are go go; we have melodies coming out of our ears. That–married to pounding drums and raucous guitar–makes the spectacle that is The Damned,” says Sensible.
Expect the authors of rowdy raves like “Stab Your Back,” “Smash It Up,” and “There Ain’t No Sanity Clause” to spill a lot of anarchy across the Cat’s Cradle stage. But to really get a taste of the insanity that’s been The Damned for the past 26 years, just ask them about the “old days.”
“We were managed by the same bloke as Elvis Costello, so we were doing a show with him, driving through France in a big tour bus, and Costello was drunk on Pernod–he thought he was drinking wine, didn’t realize it was very strong, and he passed out on the back seat,” Sensible reminisces. “So we went up to the back with the contents of about five ashtrays and put all the cigarette butts up his nose, emptied the ashtrays into his mouth, tied his shoelaces together, and then Rat Scabies [famed original drummer] had some lighter fluid, and he poured it all over his shoes and set them on fire. Costello woke up screaming and choking on the cigarette butts. I always figured that’s where he got his funny voice,” he adds with a chortle.
There’s no denying–The Damned are one of a kind and they aren’t going away. Be careful where you sleep.