Review by Scott Harmon
The Damned are darned and determined to evolve. Punk in their sensibility and ethic, they’re going to create music that they like; genre be, well . . . damned. On this four-song EP titled The Rockfield Files, the band works with celebrated music producer and audio engineer Tom Dalgerty, to create perhaps their most accomplished music to date. There are a few things that stand out on this EP; most notably it may be, dare I say, the Band’s Opus. It is musically broad in scope and the compositions are so adventurous and topical that it sounds like something some young and hungry scrappers may have put together, not these standard-bearers of disruptive punk music who were responsible for introducing punk music to the U.S. back in the late 70s. Presumably looking for that germ of youthful inspiration the band returned to Rockfield Studios, where they recorded their seminal work and quite frankly, that appears to have been a smart move.
The EP opens with the song “Keep ‘Em Alive”, a warning to all about the impending peril that we humans face due to the abrupt decline in the bee population. The introduction begins quietly enough with sounds of nature backed by swelling organ chords and a chant to “keep ’em alive”, but when the seriousness starts and the band kicks in with some cogent guitar work and tight drumming we hear what to my ears is a subtle homage to the great Brian Ferry of Roxy Music with Dave Vanian dramatically setting the stage singing “A summer breeze, caress the leaves and webs . . . .” The pre-chorus uses a descending progression that has a vintage Brian May signature to it that leads to the chorus “I guess that’s all. Of course they’re trying to keep ’em alive.” There’s a great extended break about three minutes in with some solid guitar work on display. Captain Sensible’s guitar work here (And on the entire EP.) is simply masterful; there’s bite and attitude, but enough confidence to become one with the rhythm section.
It’s hard to imagine the song “Manipulator” isn’t about . . . . . well it could be about any number of deceitful populist politicians these days. The song is a solid, straight forward rock song calling out the demagogues of the world. The manipulated in this song appears to be someone who was previously fooled into supporting someone only to discover the self-serving motives of the aspiring svengali. It’s short, punchy and to the point; a great cautionary tale.
The Spider The Fly is the third track and is similar to Manipulator in tempo as both are pretty much straight ahead rock songs, although The Spider The Fly’s use of the predator/prey metaphor is more provocative. The dialogue between the two is actually kind of sinister knowing the ultimate plight of the fly. Captain Sensible’s use of a wah-wah pedal on this one is a nice touch and the soaring flanger pedal on the outro is inspired.
Black Is The Night is the final chapter in this musical novelette, a literary reference only to the EP’s brevity. I found myself really wishing for more music from this effort. The song’s first verse begins “Black is the night like a ghost of the kiss. Black is the thing that is drawn to resist. Dark is the mood. Changing all from blue to black.” That is some compelling imagery and it takes the listener along a trip to a netherworld of shadows and surrealism. There’s no victory here; no redemption. It just is. And it’s a beautifully evocative world devoid of sunshine and gaiety. From a composition point of view this song is similar to Keep ‘Em Alive; it’s grand in scope and mood while Dave Vanian’s voice has never been better.
All in all, this is a remarkable effort by The Damned. It is musically aggressive but sophisticated, the songwriting topical as well as literary. The song arrangements are bigger than life and the production, particularly on Keep ‘Em Alive and Black is the Night allows Dave Vanian’s ridiculously underrated vocals to shine and thus reveal the stage impresario he is to those who haven’t seen The Damned perform live.