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Music for Pleasure - The Damned (Stiff Records: 1977)
on 12 March 2009
By the end of 1977, most of the bands that had surfed the punk-wave had beached with their debut LPs, but the forerunners of the punk movement - The Damned, were already racing up the beaches and beyond the dunes with the release of `Music for Pleasure' their follow up to their 1976 debut LP `Damned, Damned, Damned'.
I had anticipated the release of `Music for Pleasure' and after purchasing it on the day of its release, I rushed home to play it, for it contained many of the songs familiar to me in the band's live set. By the time I had reached halfway through side two, a growing feeling of gloom and disappointment had crept over me. I never had high expectations from The Damned. All I requested from them was that they turn it up, play it fast and keep it short, but what I experienced here was evidence of some kind of `muso' conspiracy - I was not a-muse-d. But then something happened!
As the final chord of the penultimate song `Creep (you can't fool me)' resonated from the speakers, a curious thing happened - something strange and not normally assimilated with punk occurred. Out of the dying chord, a riff emerged that levitated above the ambience. For the next five minutes we find ourselves in un-chartered waters. The riff is manic, demented even, and as Vanian episodically yells: `You Know' a demonic sax - played by Lol Coxhill, vents its spleen in a Nik Turner-ish kinda-way, somehow finding the spaces in between Brian James' thick, layered dementia. I was hooked!
Sometimes it is a single track, on what initially appears to be a disappointing recording, which can ignite an album. A similar occurrence appears on Nazereth's `Loud and Proud' LP, where the gloom-metal cover of Dylan's `Ballad of Hollis Brown' transcends the album into territories uninhabited by mere mortals. As a result of `You Know', The Damned levitated themselves above their peers. They had taken the uncomplicated, punk genre and pushed it into a direction that no one had ever considered possible. Sure, The Clash had introduced `white-man reggae' into their sound and Magazine and Wire were already hinting at a progressive and almost industrial future, but here, The Damned had introduced a psychedelic-jazz element into a land, formerly inhabited by substantial items such as, safety-pins, zips and spittle.
My initial dismissal of `Music for Pleasure' wasn't entirely un-foundered, for what we witness here is a band in reticent transition. The album contains many songs that were written in the same style or were perhaps `leftovers' that were not considered strong enough for their first LP. These songs sit alongside new songs that appear under rehearsed and one gets the impression that Stiff were putting pressure on the band for an immediate follow-up to `Damned, Damned, Damned'. It is apparent from these recordings that the band were not `ready' to record their second album, but that said, if `Music for Pleasure' hadn't been released, these songs may never have been aired. Within months of its release, this inaugural line-up of Brian James on guitar, Dave Vanian on vocals, Captain Sensible on bass and Rat Scabies on drums was soon to capitulate. One gets the impression that the band were comfortable with their MC5, Stooges, New York Dolls direction and Brian James' attempts to `stretch' the parameters of the group, by introducing a second guitarist(1) to `free him up' didn't sit comfortably with his compatriots.
The debut LP `Damned, Damned, Damned' was a monster. Tight as f**k, with not a hair's breadth between the tracks. One gets the impression that the producer Nick Lowe, made the band play those tracks until their fingers bled(2). The album finishes with a version of the Stooges `I Feel Alright' and the listener is left feeling exhausted, but craving more. Maybe this is why, on first listening, `Music for Pleasure' appears so tame and disappointing.
Produced by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, `Music for Pleasure' lacks the pop sensibility and production of its predecessor. Why did Mason get involved? To give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe he saw the potential in their brush with psychedelia on `You Know', but was unable to coax more of this flirtation from the band. It is more likely however, that he saw it as a bandwagon opportunity to get some kudos for his own band, frowned upon and denounced as `hippies' by the punk movement. Whichever, Mason's approach to the production here is to say the least - sloppy and demonstrates how out of touch he was with the band, where they were `at' and the then current music scene.
At times the band seem under-rehearsed and there are clumsy mistakes in the playing that should have been spotted and edited out. All of the songs on the album are great songs, many containing great riffs which, unlike on the first album, contain spaces and a freshness reminiscent of early singles by The Who and The Kinks - a decade before. One wonders what this album would have sounded like if Nick Lowe had been retained as producer. If this had been the occurrence, this LP would undoubtedly have already been hailed as a pop classic.
At times one wonders what Mason was thinking, couldn't he hear the hit potential of great songs such as `Don't' Cry Wolf', `You Take My Money, `You Eyes' or the `Devoto-ian' paranoia of `Alone'? His control over the band seems to have been non-existent, surely it is the job of the producer to harness the enthusiasm demonstrated by the band, not to let it dribble out of control on every single track? One wonders if the words, "Oy! Scabies - reel it in" were ever heard in the Brittania Row studios, especially on `Your Eyes', a track where 'less' would have certainly been `more'. On `Damned, Damned, Damned', overdubs were kept to a minimum and if they were used extensively, Lowe's ability to disguise them is to his credit. But here the overdubs are clumsy and unnecessary and attempts to emulate the New York Dolls end up sounding more like Graeme Douglas era Eddie and the Hot Rods!
Devotees to the `shrine of rock' preside warily over the re-mastering process of vinyl classics and rightly so, but for once, here is an album that cries out - no, screams out loud, for a re-hash. Nick Lowe, are you listening?!
1. Robert Edmunds aka `Lu', is pictured and credited with guitar parts on the LP, but evidence of this is hard to find. Most of the major parts appear to have been played by Brian James. One gets the impression that `Lu' was really a foil for James' live work.
2. By 1976, The Damned were well-seasoned performers, having previously toured as support to Marc Bolan's T.Rex.