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The Black Album, CD (£12.14)
Through 1980 the Damned spent some 1078 hours in the studio recording / mixing and this 25th anniversary edition of THE BLACK ALBUM contains all of the released material during that year plus one previously unissued mix. The Black Album was the band’s rural album and their most psychedelic. Initially there were sessions in February and March at Wessex where MGE had been cut. Captain had come up with Rabid (Over You) as a contender for the next single and though a cracking good song and certainly commercial enough, the title was a non starter as far as mainstream radio play was concerned at the time. As Smash It Up had been regarded as an incitement to riot by Radio Wonderful lord knows what they would have made of Rabid. So a cover version was picked in the shape of the Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit and this was cut at the Wessex sessions along with Rabid (Over You). Anthony More was initially in charge of the Rabid session and brought along his synth box of tricks. However he didn’t quite manage to make it to the end of the session, though eventually contributed a lot to the record’s sound. Meanwhile I was cutting Rabbit and Rat was working on a very out there version of the 50s classic Chantilly Lace that was to come out under the moniker Edgar Tempest and the Wild Rockers. All three of these sides were finished and a single was scheduled with White Rabbit backed with’ Rabid (Over You) and the elegiac into mayhem guitar piece from the Captain called Seagulls. It got as far as test pressing stage at EMI and then the band went off it, though it did see the light of day in France and Germany, making its way into the U.K. on import. Chantilly Lace didn’t make it to the starting block. So, single-less, time was booked at Rockfield for May /June to record the bulk of the Black Album. Early takes of History of the World Part 1 and Curtain Call had been cut at Wessex and even a basic acoustic track for Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde.
Hans Zimmer was a German synthesiser pioneer who had access to the then state of the art machinery. Though essentially guitar-based the Damned, unlike most of the punk bands, had always found room for keyboards. In Hans they found keyboard excess to match the general ambiance of the band. Hence nothing less than a pop record called History Of The World would do. I have to add that this was before the Mel Brooks movie of the same name. This sprawling epic was to become the sole UK single from the album, but then again it was to become an album. The fact that it remained a double album was not that intentional. The core album consisted of 11 tracks and the extended Curtain Call along with a live side make up a bonus LP, hence the single sleeve album.
Wait For The Blackout opened proceedings - an exceptionally good Rat riff , with a great breakdown in the middle, and that led into a couple of distinctive Captain efforts. Lively Arts featured the world’s fastest Baroque Orchestra courtesy Hans and contrasting blunt lyrics from Captain. Silly Kids Games has some very sly Who references. Drinking About My Baby is a very Damned punk love and regret piece and is followed by the bass player’s song and a very good one at that from Paul Gray – Hit Or Miss. He had joined the band that year and integrated well into their sound. This was bracketed by two oblique songs from Dave Twisted Nerve and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, the later with a gentle pop swing that turned it into the US single. Then back to the sharp melodic punk rock thing that the Damned did better than anyone on Sick Of The Country. Next the album take of what became the single, followed by the English psyche of 13th Floor Vendetta and out on a very Damned pop punk outing leading into a total psychedelic guitar blitz as Therapy finishes the album proper.
The live side was cut at a chaotic and at times dark show at Sheperton Studios in front of a bussed in hard core Damned audience drawn from the Flashman Society – the band’s fan club. The Ruts supported and both bands were on exceptional form.
The Damned were meant to be a punk band, so having the audacity to cut a 17 minute track was not really on for the cognoscenti. But then it’s easy to confuse length with indulgence. There isn’t a wasted moment in Curtain Call and a short attention span is no excuse at all. In some ways this is a key to “The Black Album”, in that Dave Vanian was more engaged and had more minutes of needle time for his view of a band that was always a bunch of competing ideas, attitudes, takes on life and egos.
To say that the album is flawed is a cliché and like any piece of work, perfection doesn’t do it any favours. Between them the three individuals who made up the creative core of the Damned had a lot of musical ideas and satisfying enough of them was both the joy in them and their problem. Every album that they made was different and on the Black Album every track was different.
The bonus tracks follow the same course as our MGE 25 compilation with the addition of the UK singles. The 12” of History… was the same as the LP version, but the 7” is a different mix altogether. The abandoned White Rabbit is included here in the original would be U.K. single version and in a previously unreleased mix of the extended version. As Johnny Moped would say ‘the decision is yours and yours alone’ as to the efficacy of release. Post the Black Album when no further singles were forthcoming the Marx Brothers joke was dusted off for a refreshing Christmas jollity. The flip included the then unreleased live take of the MC5’s Looking At You that just goes to show what a remarkable band are the Damned.
As a footnote it is a shame that their differences keep Captain, David and Rat apart as that deprives the World of a remarkable combination whose whole is far greater than the parts.