[Review] The Damned: The Black Album (1980)

With the band’s gothic tendencies brought to the fore, The Damned find themselves at an inverted crossroads between English punk and Edgar Allan Poe.

Kronomyth 4.0: Let’s wait for the sellout.

In the short time since The Damned arrived, English punk had shifted noticeably toward the gothic and psychedelic: Siouxsie and the Banshees, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, etc. It was apparently all the push the band needed to throw their own black hat into the ring.

The Black Album is, in many ways, the first Damned album that truly reflects the personalities of its players. Dave Vanian, who always looked odd as a goth fronting a punk band, now looks right at haunted home behind the mic for “Wait For The Blackout,” “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,” “Twisted Nerve” and “13th Floor Vendetta.” Captain Sensible, meanwhile, continues his musictasting odyssey with Beach Boys harmonies (“Silly Kids Games”), synthesizers (“Lively Arts”) and the failed ambitions of “History of the World Part I.”

Apparently, thankfully, no one told Rat Scabies he wasn’t in a punk band anymore, and he delivers the goods on “Drinking About My Baby,” “Hit Or Mis” and “Sick of This And That.” The new guy, Paul Gray (ex-Eddie and the Hot Rods), plays it fast and loud and never loses his head, even during seven minutes of “Therapy.” Those eleven tracks constitute the first half of The Black Album, which was released as a double album in the UK. The second album bears all the hallmarks of a contract killer: one side of screwing around, cheekily titled “Curtain Call,” and six live tracks. I haven’t heard the live material, but I’m probably not alone; I’ll wager half the people who bought The Black Album threw out the second record in disgust after sitting through seventeen minutes of the worst music ever to bear The Damned’s name.

After the first three Damned records, I had high expectations for The Black Album. I knew how the story ended, that the group traded in its teeth for plastic fangs, but I had hoped for one more classic punk rock record from the band. Instead, The Black Album marks the midway point between punk and gothic new wave. “Wait For The Blackout” is a great anthem, “Drinking About My Baby” is a classic and “13th Floor Vendetta” is as good as you’d expect a song about Dr. Phibes to be. But I’d think twice before buying the next Damned album. The same thing happened to The Stranglers. No more heroes anymore, indeed.

Read more Damned reviews

Original 2LP Version

Record One
A1. Wait For The Blackout (Rat Scabies/Captain Sensible/Paul Gray/David Vanian/Billy Karloff) (3:55)
A2. Lively Arts (3:01)
A3. Silly Kids Games (2:27)
A4. Drinking About My Baby (3:28)
A5. Twisted Nerve (4:31)
A6. Hit Or Miss (2:35)
B1. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Rat Scabies/Captain Sensible/Paul Gray/David Vanian/Giovanni Dadomo) (4:35)
B2. Sick of This And That (1:48)
B3. History of the World Part I (3:52)
B4. 13th Floor Vendetta (3:46)
B5. Therapy (Rat Scabies/Captain Sensible/Paul Gray/David Vanian/Fay Hart) (7:39)

All songs written by Rat Scabies, Captain Sensible, Paul Gray and David Vanian unless noted.

Record Two
C1. Curtain Call (Rat Scabies/Captain Sensible/Paul Gray/David Vanian)
D1. Love Song (live) (Rat Scabies/Captain Sensible/David Vanian/Algy Ward)
D2. Second Time Around (live) (Rat Scabies/Captain Sensible/David Vanian/Algy Ward)
D3. Smash It Up (Parts 1 & 2) (live) (Rat Scabies/Captain Sensible/David Vanian/Algy Ward)
D4. New Rose (live) (Brian James)
D5. I Just Can’t Be Happy Today (live) (Rat Scabies/Captain Sensible/David Vanian/Algy Ward)
D6. Plan 9 Channel 7 (live) (Rat Scabies/Captain Sensible/David Vanian/Algy Ward)

2CD Deluxe Edition bonus tracks
7. White Rabbit
8. Rabid (Over You)
9. Seagulls
10. The History of the World, Part I
11. I Believe The Impossible
12. Sugar And Spite
13. There Ain’t No Sanity Clause
14. Looking At You (live)
15. White Rabbit (mix)

The Players

Paul Gray (bass), Rat Scabies (drums, vocals, guitar on A4), Captain Sensible (guitars, vocals, keyboards and solo vocals on A3), David Vanian (vocals) with Hans Zimmer (synthesizers on B3). Produced by the Kings of Reverb (The Damned) except B3 by Hans Zimmer.

The Pictures

Artwork and design by Dave Vanian. Photography by A. Gallard.

The Plastic

Released on 2LP on November 3, 1980 in the UK (Chiswick, CWK3015) and on single elpee in 1980 in the US (IRS, SP-70012) and Italy (Chiswick, ACWKL 23015) with black innersleeve; reached #29 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in the UK (Big Beat, CDWIK 905) without the live tracks (D1-D6).
  2. Re-released on expanded 2CD Deluxe Edition in 2005 (Big Beat) with 9 bonus tracks.
  3. Re-issued on 2CD on July 21, 2005 in Japan (Imperial, TECI-28295/6).
  4. Re-released on limited edition 200g colored vinyl 2LP in 2014 in the US (Drastic Plastic).

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