There’s no better day than Friday 13th for The Damned to release their much anticipated new studio album; their first in 10 years. I say much anticipated as the old punk rearguard on Facebook have been rubbing their hands with Grimly Fiendish glee for quite some time. A big part of this could be due to the return of bass maestro Paul Gray and there’s been a lot of online love floating around. The Rickenbacker and beret sporting lead four stringer is something of a hero in my house. It probably harks back to the time he held music workshops in my small Welsh village in the mid 90s and 16 year old me broke his ears with a terrible cover version of Roses in the Hospital by Manic Street Preachers. I digress, but like many others I was overjoyed to see Paul returning to The Damned fold.
Kickstarting proceedings with lead single Standing on the Edge of Tomorrow, it’s clear that Dave Vanian is in full-on Scott Walker mode, and that’s just fine by me. With the legendary Tony Visconti at the production helm, we get beautiful layers upon layers. It’s definitely The Damned, just maybe not as we know them as what follows is a mixed bag that mostly leans towards their gothic and psychedelic mid 80s work; Motown influenced Sonar Deceit aside. If you thought Captain Sensible had reached his musical peak playing the keyboard on I Just Can’t Be Happy Today on that infamous appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test in ‘79, then on this Evil Spirits showing he’s proving you wrong as he lets out his inner punk rock Gary Moore. None more so than on We’re So Nice as he noodles freely. Premier knob twiddler Visconti has freed up a lot of space for everyone to do their thing; be it air for Monty’s Zombies-esque keyboard wizardry or Paul Gray’s fingers-on-fire bass runs. The aforementioned song title may just sum up the album though. It could be considered a nice, pleasant musical affair, even when things turn political with Look Left and Daily Liar. That said, album closer I Don’t Care is an absolute gem. A song of three parts which starts with more Scott Walker baritone vocals over piano and strings before kicking out the anthemic chorus jams ahead of a free-flowing jazzy outro. Sounds awful on paper, doesn’t it? I can assure you it’s not.
By no means is Evil Spirits a bad album, but after the first, second and third review listening, I suspect it may be a grower. The Damned could’ve taken the easy way out and just kept plodding along playing New Rose et al to a punk by numbers seaside holiday park audience. Instead, they’re still creating new music. One thing’s for sure, there’s still no band out there quite like The Damned. Ginge Knievil
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