The Damned have been caught with their trousers down to some extent.
Ostensibly dropping by Leeds’s O2 Academy in support of Evil Spirits, their first record of new material for a decade, the album’s delay to the spring has left the eldritch post-punks with only a solitary lead single and a couple of unreleased numbers to offer up as fresh blood. For those salivating at the prospect, pickings are slim to feast on.
The signs are promising though; amongst the small brace of preview cuts thrown in, its lead single is sufficiently apocalyptic in its grandeur; Standing On the Edge of Tomorrow conjures Morricone-indebted guitar flourishes over galloping rhythms, a Wild West-laden harbinger of doom.
Nestled amongst the dishevelled surf-psych of Silly Kids Games and Anti-Pope’s rapid-fire racket, it not only stands tall against their back catalogue; it also serves of an exhilarating reminder of how fun the Damned can be on their best macabre-camp form.
Lead singer Dave Vanian and guitarist Captain Sensible may remain the only holdouts of a revolving door line-up amid several breakups since inception, but they carry the spirit and spectre of their legacy well. Briefly one of goth’s most idiosyncratic outfits, at the juncture between Joy Division and The Cure – and with a giddy levity lacked by others – they resolutely head no further forward than 1985 tonight in their recital, leaning primarily on magnum opus Strawberries. They have little reason to divert; it offers stone-cold proof that, in their moment, the Damned bridged the gap between fiery, fingers-up rock and sixties-harmonic pop better than any of their peers ever did, with Ignite’s frantic thrash and the atmospheric new-wave of Under the Floor Again still brilliant all these years later, even if the band around them creak a tad at the edges. (It is somewhat telling that Shadow of Love and Eloise, arguably their shiniest, most sweeping singles are raggedly retooled as straight-up rockers.)
Taken on their own merits, it’s difficult to reconcile the snotty anger in So Messed Up with the chugging, orchestral menace of Street of Dreams as being the work of the same group, and yet, as Vanian alternatively shouts and croons whilst Sensible chugs cans of beer and belches into his own microphone, it’s clear that they come from the same conceptual place of music as joyous exculpation. No gravedigging here anymore; the Damned’s latest resurrection remains a scruffy success.