The Damned - Machine Gun Etiquette
I recently bought the remastered edition, and though I have to say the bonus tracks do not add much, the memories came flooding back when it hit the CD player. In its day, this album probably got more airplay than any other I had. The songs were fast paced, yet played with a skill which belied the three chord thrash of the earlier days. After two and half years of being punks, the Damned could finally say they had learned how to play their instruments.
"Smash It Up" showed this development more clearly than any other track. Starting with a quiet, very melodic guitar intro, it gradually builds up pace and volume before tearing into a high energy rocker. Yet just to let you know they could still thrash with the best, they put in "Liar" which would not have sounded out of place on their first album. I always loved the quiet piano fugue opening "Melody Lee" and just when you thought you were in for a calm ballad, the band ripped you out of your comfort zone and threw you in the bin. A similar tactic was used to equally impressive effect on the cover of the MC5's "Looking at You". A quiet lull in the middle as the band slowed down, the volume decreased and Dave Vanian almost stuttered his way through the words, suddenly exploded into a shattering wall of guitars, bass and drums.
This style of loud-quiet-loud in arranging songs was to be used with great effect later in the decade. Obviously the Damned didn't come up with it, but they certainly knew how to utilise it to maximum advantage and effect. The Pixies may have been the masters of it - listen to "Gouge Away" if you don't believe me, and you can hear it as far into the future as Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Catherine Wheel's "Black Metallic" and "Pain".
Yet it is some of the more thoughtful numbers which always impressed me. "I Just Can't Be Happy Today" is actually quite scathing political commentary, while "Plan Nine Channel Seven" shows the band reaching new heights of thoughtful lyrics. Hell, even "Anti-Pope" is a direct onslaught on the church at the same time as it is a direct onslaught on the ears. Whatever had bedevilled the band in the past in terms of quality of production was long gone by now as well. The Damned knew the sound they wanted to make and they made sure it was recreated on this album as much as it could be. In places, it almost has the feel of being a live album.
And yet despite the fact that I have loved this album since I first bought it many years ago, it is with some sadness that I play it now. Punk died with this album. This was as far as punk could go before it morphed into something else. Anything that came after was new wave or post punk; powerpop or new romantic; Goth or grunge. True punk died after this album was released. Long live the memory of punk!
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