Coming 10 years after its predecessor – and with David Bowie‘s right hand man Tony Visconti in the producer’s chair – there were naturally big expectations surrounding Evil Spirits, the latest offering by The Damned.
With founder members Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian well into their 60s – many have predicted it might be their farewell album – a last run around the track for the band, whose New Rose, heralded the punk rock revolution.
No pressure there then, but with the band assembling its best live unit since the glory days of Rat Scabies and Brian James, the omens looked good that Evil Spirits would be no pale apparition.
So does it deliver? Well it certainly has its moments.
Lead single Standing On The Edge Of Tomorrow, thunders along merrily enough and straight up rocker The Devil In Disguise is great fun too.
Sticksman Pinch propels the song along with a galloping rhythm, while Vanian in full deranged Southern preacher mode croons “I’m a devil, a complicated rebel/A dirty demon devil, a devil in disguise.”
The welcome return of bassist Paul Gray, who featured on two of the band’s best loved albums The Black Album and Strawberries, inevitably provokes comparisons with those records.
But while there are echoes, certainly of the latter album, in the psychedelia of We’re So Nice and in Monty Oxymoron‘s squalling keyboard flourishes on Look Left – ghosts of the band’s slightly more recent past are also in evidence.
There’s a hint of Grimly Fiendish about the gothic rock of Shadow Evocation in which the band appear to acknowledge that time is running out.
“Edging to oblivion – obscuring all that lies ahead,” Vanian growls with forboding, “With one burning passion to cheat the clock and get ahead.”
Ska-like in its bouncing bass line, Sonar Deceit tackles the plight of marine animals diven to insanity and death by “humans playing games with submarines“.
It’s a noble sentiment, but the lyrics fail to match the might of the music or carry the weight of the message.
Two of the more political songs, the aforementioned Look Left and anti-tabloid tirade Daily Liar also flounder in the lyrical shallows – too obvious in the case of the latter, the former not direct enough.
Liar‘s music is bloody good though, surging along like a mad sea shanty.
The words are sharper on Procrastination – a ditty which may explain why it’s taken The Captain and Co. a decade to get this record out.
An ode to indecision, protraction and general shilly-shallying, it’s full of witty one-liners “I consult a horoscope just to pick a perfect day,” and canny couplets:
“I’d like to see the pyramids at this time of the year/But never quite get round to it and end up staying here.”
Boasting perhaps the most punk title of the whole album, closing track I Don’t Care – a combination of piano and Mariachi-style brass – brings a cynical and somewhat muted end to proceedings.
For the most part, Visconti keeps it simple recording the band as-live with Gray’s fibrous bass high in the mix, complementing the Captain’s crunching power chords and shimmering arpeggios.
If this is to be their last album – and personally I doubt it – The Damned can be justly proud of Evil Spirits.
It may not quite reach the dizzy heights of their very best work, but as a document of a fantastic late period lineup, it’ll do very nicely, thenk-you.
- Evil Spirits is available on digital download via Spotify and i-Tunes, on CD and vinyl available to order now on this link
- The Damned will support Johnny Depp and Alice Cooper’s Hollywood Vampires tour this Summer, before their own headlining UK dates from November. Visit here for tickets or the band’s website for more details