The Damned – Phantasmagoria

This is a review of two Damned reissues published a few months ago in Classic Rock magazine. The Damned are criminally overlooked, perhaps because a lot of people of a certain age see them as a comedy band, or they bring out the knee-jerk anti-goth prejudices of the Uncut set. My favourite Damned album is still Music For Pleasure, the second album that everyone still seems to think was some kind of a monumental disaster. But Phantasmagoria is a fantastic album too: hugely important in the narrative of post-60s psychedelic rock.

The Damned

When Captain Sensible quit The Damned in the mid 80s, it took the brakes from frontman Dave Vanian’s ambitions for the band, allowing them to shed the last vestiges of their comedy pop-punk past and mutate into something darker. The Damned arguably started the perennial youth subculture known as goth (no Damned, no My Chemical Romance) and by God they weren’t about to allow upstarts like Sisters Of Mercy snap up all those cadaverous Hammer horror scream queen girlies in purple velvet and PVC.

It was a new beginning: after a long stint with indie Chiswick and a brief tenure with Bronze, they were snapped up by MCA who had the money and muscle to push them to the stadium level, maybe even to break them in the US.

Phantasmagoria was heralded by the eerie non-album single Eloise, a surprise hit that set the tone for the new era of The Damned. This carried over into the bloody Morricone-like Shadow Of Love on the album and the lo fi Doors-like psychedelia of Grimly Fiendish. This appeared at the start of a small scale 80s psychedelic revival that at one extreme produced novelty acts like Doctor & The Medics and at the other a lost Paisley underground, bands like the Mood 6 and the Prisoners. After a comparatively long stretch in the wilderness, The Damned seemed to be back on form again. On the subsequent album Anything, The Damned took this gothic psychedelia a step further, covering Love’s Alone Again Or, which along with Gigolo and the album’s title track were released as singles though barely got anywhere near bothering the Top 30. But whatever momentum they had built up with Phantasmagoria was lost with the follow up which was poorly received by press and punters alike and saw an end to their stint with major label MCA. In fact it was to be their last album for a decade. Not that Anything is a bad album; the Love cover and the closing track Psychomania are classic Damned. It simply isn’t their finest hour.

Still, you hang on long enough and your former corporate masters will dust off your turds, polish them up and unleash them all over again, lovingly repackaged with loads of bonus tracks and the magazines that ignored you back in the day will wail about how under-rated you always were. These, sadly, are the breaks.

Tommy Udo

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