The Black Album
Ahh The Damned, you know them, maybe you don’t know them; they were probably the funnest of the 1977 UK punk bands, certainly more so than the media hogging Sex Pistols or the self righteous Clash. The Dam-Ned had made a name for themselves playing fun, fast odes to...who knows, and beginning with their now classic Machine Gun Etiquette, the band had started to become more experimental with their music, but really being experimental; the band had adopted many sounds, past and present, and had incorporated them to their sound while at the same time, tossing their characteristic Damned Damned Damned style to the side, leaving just their approach and humour in, which was all it was needed to be honest.
So after 11 songs of macabre death rock that constitute the Black Album, what does a band that has gone up and down in the matter of minutes go? They wrap it up with a 17 minute prog rock epic of course. And it’s not just a prog rock epic, it’s one of the things the Damned had ever done.
It’s understandable that it’s a little understood song, since, when compared to “New Rose” or “Neat Neat Neat” or “Smash It Up”, it’s pretty opposite to what the band had been all about, or at least what they had been best at; but then again, people who think that are probably inventing genres and listening just to that, they might even believe the Sex Pistols invented punk and ended with them breaking up which always makes me laugh; so, listening with an open mind is a must, not just for the Damned, but for everything really, but let’s just leave at listening to the Damned. The song starts innocently enough as one of those summons of the deadly depressed feelings so common in goth rock (the kind which rocks, not the one which is just dumb and ridiculous) with keyboards and everything and Dave Vanian’s ghastly baritone all over it, then the pace goes up and the band starts to rock, then a few minutes later the band goes into Beach Boys vocal harmonies. The Fiends!!!!! It’s all good and games when the keyboards leave on droning and the piano plucking for the Phantom of the Opera, mask and shame to be seen and everything, stay to give place to something that sounds nothing like British punk at all and that’s where the genius of this piece lies, it’s nothing like what you expect, not the vocal harmonies, not the piano plucking, not the Yes references, not the droning, not the guitar solos, not anything. I mean i can certainly picture the band coming up with this song going “le’s do a 17 minute sung!!!” then, the band would wonder what would they fill it with, and then they would just brainstorm thru the whole thing, the influences, the instrumentals, the pretentiousness and the laughter, for those are perfect ingredients when it comes to vaudevillian music which is what the Dam-Ned did best, it’s also at the core of punk, Johnny Rotten said it on camera on The Filth And The Fury, the Ramones were all about laughs, they were a band for fun times, whether the fun times were as innocent as having a girlfriend or hanging at Rockaway Beach or as fucked up as sniffing glue, the New York Dolls were one big joke, i mean, you can tell it to friends, tell the story of the Dolls and it’s just laughs after laughs; and where can you take that when you’ve gone back and forth with the three chords and the dresses and the offenses? The real joke that is the Black Album was on the punks, but more than on the punks, it’s on the people who care about punk superficially, that category whose members include teh spiky haired possers and the rock critics, who to this day trash this album and consider it “sub-par” to their previous stuff. And when those people don’t like it, then the joke hits the fan, that’s when you know it works, that’s when music becomes punk, or punker compared to other music. The musicianship in this song is superb, no doubt about it, but it’s the song that shines, even if it’s designed to be flashy, ridiculous and self-serving, for that is a FUCK YOU to all who expected another brand new rose in town.
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