One of the most enduring bands to emerge from the British punk explosion, The Damned can be accountable for a great deal of similar bands to follow after them, with some credit to The Clash and The Sex Pistols among few others as well. But not only did they influence punk, but also Goth rock, a style they delved into by the early eighties, but showed signs of earlier. Forming in 1976, they were the first British punk band to release a single (‘New Rose
’, from their debut album). And among this first are others, they were the first British punk band to release an album and tour the US too. They also played with the two former bands mentioned for the significant ‘Anarchy Tour’ in England at the end of 1976, attracting new fans to the up and coming movement. Their first album, title ‘Damned Damned Damned’ was released early the following year and is considered a staple in British punk.
A sophomore album, ‘Music For Pleasure’, followed later that year and was written off to many as merely a rehashed version of their debut. But the album showed growth in the band that would lead up to their third and final album of the seventies, ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’, released in the final months of 1979 as the movement they helped pioneer was slowly beginning to dim. Where their first two albums were released on Stiff Records, an independent label, this album marked their first on Chickwisk Records. Notable line up changes occurred prior to recording the album and during their hiatus in 1978; Founding guitarist Brian James left the band reasoning for original bassist Captain Sensible to switch to guitar. Saints bassist Algy Ward was brought in to fill that position. Original drummer Rat Scabies retained his role as did vocalist Dave Vanian. The album is often regarded as some of their finest work, largely due to the experimentation that supports their previous punk and pop sound and future more Goth-like sound as well as the incorporation of some new instruments. But as always, the energy, a representation of their earlier works often made by Vanian’s tone, is present here which makes it a fun listen.
Some distortion and a bass line lead into the album and a Damned classic, Love Song
. Chaotic guitar and Dave’s frantic vocals abound with hints of satirical takes on romance and love songs making for a great way to start off. While recording the album, the band were in the same studio as The Clash when they were recording London Calling
, and you can faintly hear Mick Jones’ voice at the beginning of the title track. Speaking of which continues much in the same vein as the album opener; an under two minute, thrashing fast paced punk song with chanting backing vocals, and an unexpected bridge. It is noticeable at this point of the album that Dave’s voice as taken on a deeper tone to it that would show on later works. At times howling and at others low and monotone, he almost reminiscents Glenn Danzig of the Misfits at times. While the first two songs could easily have fit on their first record, some songs could only fit here. Melody Lee
is a standout highlighted by the light piano intro before going into a familiar sound. It is also one of drummer Rat Scabies best outings on the album.
Perhaps as a tribute to one of the genre’s pioneers and inspirations, The Damned cover the MC5 classic Looking At You
. It is the longest song here and indeed one of the loudest and raw. At over five minutes, it goes though many different changes and tempos, yet remains heavy, but the best part is where Captain Sensible does his lengthy guitar solo that takes over the latter half of the song. Anti-Pope
is an interesting song, keeping a poppy and signature style for the band but only before going into a bongo breakdown halfway though, showing more diversity of the album. Vanian’s vocals are at his deepest on I Just Can’t Be Happy Today
, and he succeeds but what makes the track stand out is the keyboard solo in the middle of the song, just like the bongos in the previously mentioned.
is certainly an oddity on the album. Possessing a circus-esque feel with horns and cymbals abound and Vanian’s dark vocals, the song sure is an experiment, whether or not to consider filler is up to you, but it doesn’t hurt the album. Noise Noise Noise
are not as experimental, and are typical punk songs, but not in weak terms at all. Both serve well on the album and add to its overall consistency. The absolute highlight of the album though is the two part finale, Smash It Up
. The song might be more recently known as the song The Offspring covered for the Batman Soundtrack. The song, split into two parts (first slower and latter faster), captures almost everything about The Damned; the pop sensibilities and humor, yet punk attitude and feel with a hint of their future sound making for an excellent finish to the album.
The Damned’s ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’ I feel is one of the better albums to come out of the British punk explosion and should be in a punk fans collection, along with their debut. They surely rebounded from a mediocre sophomore effort; Scabies and Sensible took over as chief song writers, and did a fine job. Mixing a number of styles into a short number of songs, it shows the uniqueness of The Damned as oppose to a great number of their counterparts. With the sounds of punk, hard rock, pop, experimental, and signs of new wave/Goth/post-punk it is a great record to start with if new to the band and highly recommended for fans of the genre.
Smash It Up
Machine Gun Etiquette