2018’s Evil Spirits was one of my favourite albums of that year. It had everything that The Damned in the 21st Century bring to the table. The songs were memorable, crafted, clever. It was their first album in a decade since 2008’s So, Who’s Paranoid. Over their 47 years, the band haven’t been prolific, but their output is usually rather good. They are one unique band.
The Damned – Darkadelic (e.a.r Music)
Release Date: 28 April 2023
Words: Paul Hutchings
If you caught the band on their recent UK tour, and that was a tour with 16 dates rather than the paltry four or five we usually get these days, then you’ll have heard nearly all the songs on Darkadelic, for The Damned played most of them. It’s likely you’ll have heard the three singles regardless. If not, then you can address that crime by diving headlong into this album.
The Invisible Man is one of the two already-released songs that kicks things off. A short, sharp introduction, it features the first of many fine performances from frontman Dave Vanian, a crazy mid-section that erupts into hysteria before switching back to the earworm of a hook. Vanian channels his influences of Scott Walker and Jim Morrison. Vanian explains the premise and the vibe. “There’s an Iggy feel to it. It’s based around both the actual character and the feeling of being invisible.”
Alongside Vanian, its sidekick of 47 years, guitarist Captain Sensible who has shared the bulk of the writing, as is usual. Long-time bassist Paul Gray adds one, with Vanian taking the credits on five, Sensible six.
Upping the psych, maintaining the love of psychedelia and Victorian gothic, The Damned are as vibrant on Darkadelic as they were on that Damned Damned Damned debut way back in 1977. Bad Weather Girl sees the combination of Monty Oxymoron’s keyboards and Sensible’s underrated guitar work weave their magic. Those with an ear tuned to all things The Damned may well reference 1982’s Strawberries and 1985’s classic Phantasmagoria within the album. Vanian notes the references but adds, “It wasn’t intended. It just happened”.
It’s often been the case that Sensible’s guitar work has been overlooked. That can’t be the situation here, for the renowned beret wearer is on fine form. His work throughout demonstrates his flexible and fluid style. Nowhere is that more evident than on second single, Beware Of The Clown, where he provides a couple of searing lead breaks whilst the song rocks along.
Drop back a few decades, and you can revel in his rockabilly style on Follow Me, which is another track that echoes those earlier days without losing any contemporary flavour. Sensible’s Leader Of The Gang takes a pop at a certain disgraced pop star (you can work it out!) and rattles along, once more showcasing his fine fretwork. Never overstated, it’s simply a joy to experience.
Sensible is keen that the band didn’t use any filler. “I was looking for an album with no filler,” he adds. “Filler tracks – there’s no excuse. The Beatles didn’t do filler tracks did they? I’m not looking for perfection. I’m not looking for a producer who cleans everything up, uses Auto-Tune and loses the rough edges. We’re a garage band, not Pink Floyd,”
Garage band they may be, but they are one of the best in that case. Western Promise for example, echoes the darker love songs that The Damned dip into; it’s a delicious song, with some lovely brass and keyboard work adding to the overall atmosphere.
Anthems? You want songs that resonate? Yep, there are plenty. Wake The Dead saw the crowds clapping along on their live debuts, and here it’s another song that lingers long after it’s finished. Another song of several parts, the anthemic start segueing into a calmer pause before the tempo rises again. Vanian is imperious here. His vocals simply ooze with that laid-back richness.
And whilst the writing was completed by the band’s two founder members, the rest of the unit gel with an ease that few bands can demonstrate. Drummer Will Tayor’s studio debut sees him locked in tight with Gray, whilst Oxymoron’s keys are just sublime. The coherence is evident throughout, but take a few minutes to enjoy the band in full flow on Motorcycle Man and try to resist, at the very least, tapping that foot along. Irresistible work.
The album closes with another character in Roderick, one for you to think about and form your own opinion. It’s a classic way to close the album.
The Damned in 2023 are as compelling as they were all those years ago. And the band are unlikely to stop with a packed schedule in 2023. “We can go on forever,” says Vanian. “I know I could never give up making music. I’m always pushing myself, always learning. And, you know what? It’s not the adulation that drives me on. It’s making music. Simple as that.”
And if they continue to make music as good as Darkadelic, why would we want anything else?