The Damned

Grave Disorder

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The first LP by The Damned with key member Captain Sensible in 19 years is as if two decades never passed. Time-traveling back to where Sensible and singer Dave Vanian left off, with 1980's sinewy, dark The Black Album and 1982's knockdown brilliant Strawberries, Grave Disorder recalls those composites of uniquely sophisticated post-punk psychedelic pop with gothic overtones and divine keyboards. Mind, Grave Disorder is not as stupendous as the amazing Strawberries, or the four LPs that preceded it. Rat Scabies' replacement, Pinch, is capable, but Scabies is totally irreplaceable as a dynamic element. Similarly, Patricia Morrison (aka Pat Bag) can't match the nimble, speed-finger runs of long departed, vastly underrated bassist Paul Grey, who, like Scabies, also penned some of Strawberries most immortal songs. Lastly, the new songwriting isn't quite as astonishing, if of a high grade, and producer Matt Bianco has discernibly mismixed this comeback -- the drums are just a little too loud compared to the guitars and bass. So in truth, Grave Disorder was a grave disappointment over the first several plays. But given time, and loosening the vice-grip of Herculean memory, Grave Disorder unfolds as one of the year's sleepers. The 2001 Damned hit every former style that once served them so well. "Absinthe" recalls Strawberries' "The Dog," "Beauty of the Beast" is like The Black Album's epic one-song side-four, "Curtain Call," and the opening "Democracy" (the "Love Song" or "Ignite" of the LP) and especially "Lookin' For Action" head all the way back to 1979's Machine Gun Etiquette. And hey, Captain Sensible remains one of the most inspired lead guitar players ever since he switched there from bass in 1979, wrapping every song in a gnarly string-bending revelry like his favorite '60s punk/garage/psych-pop classics. Meanwhile, Vanian himself, when not getting too camp, remains one of the coolest sounding vocalists when finally (finally!) given a strong melody and an engaging mood. His work on standouts such as "Thrill Kill," "Would You Be So Hot" (about the over-deification of John Lennon into mythic status), and "She" (a lurid, yet appreciative tribute to his missus, Ms. Morrison) are enough to rekindle our forgotten love affair with his Dracula-ness. They were a giant the original punk era, and then also the post-punk era. They're out of context now, but remain a deep pleasure.

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