Their fourth album, a double, available again on vinyl.
“The Black Album” was ambitious, even more so than its multi-faceted predecessor, “Machine Gun Etiquette”. Reviewing the new album, weekly music paper the NME pointed to a Terry Riley influence. Syd Barrett and the Beach Boys were name-checked in Sounds’ review. Thinking of the Damned as a punk rock band was no longer possible.
Their fourth album – and second since reforming in 1978 after splitting earlier in the year – was issued on 17 November 1980. It was a double. Sides One and Two featured 11 songs. Side Four included six tracks recorded live at Shepperton Studios on 26 July 1980, one of which was a version of their 1976 debut single ‘New Rose’, British punk rock’s first record. Side Three was taken up by one song, the 17-minute ‘Curtain Call’. In four years, the Damned had gone from a short, sharp shock to the epic.
A slightly different Damned to that of “Machine Gun Etiquette” was heard on “The Black Album”. Bassist Algy Ward had been replaced by Paul Gray from Eddie & the Hot Rods. There was also a new approach to recording as this was their first album made outside London and completed (except Side Four) at the Welsh residential studio Rockfield. Other firsts: one track aside, it was self-produced; ‘History Of The World Part 1’ featured the track’s producer Hans Zimmer on synthesiser, the first time one was used by the band. The Damned were not repeating themselves.
While the title was a sideways Beatles’ reference, the Black and the White albums actually were counterparts as each featured songs with diverse styles. The introspective ‘Silly Kids Games’ can be read as a look back at the band’s past. ‘Wait For The Blackout’ had an irresistible forward momentum and an equally memorable melody. ‘Drinking About My Baby’ was the closest to punk that it got. ‘Twisted Nerve’ was imbued with darkness. ‘History Of The World Part 1’ nodded to the Kinks. And then, there was the momentous portmanteau aural drama ‘Curtain Call’, with its lyrics of “the crack of the whip” and “the snapping sound of someone’s nerves”.
The Damned felt they could do anything and “The Black Album” proved they could. Ambitious? Yes. But also confirmation that the Damned were at a peak which would be hard to reach again.