The Damned – Grave Disorder

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Release Date: 08/21/01

In a late-career dose of inspired song-making, The Damned combine their disparate musical interests into a cohesive musical statement, unheard of in this fashion since The Damned’s own 1982 release, Strawberries. Even that album provides for less variety than offered here, and bringing Captain Sensible’s unparalleled guitar skills back in the fold proved to be a very good choice indeed.

The album starts out with “Democracy?”, which is the most punk the band has sounded since “Ignite”. The keyboards and very rock n’ roll sounding guitar leads keeps this from being your average, run of the mill 2001 punk sound, however.

The lyrics of “Song.com” come off as a little corny, even if it is tongue-in-cheek, but the chorus is undeniable – the vocal harmonies are very tasteful, and the way it transitions back into the verses is quite powerful. This is an incredibly catchy track. Dave Vanian’s vocal performance is just excellent here.

The Damned then dive headlong into the darkness with the Phantasmagoria-esque, “Thrill Kill”. I was fortunate enough to see the band play this song live at their 40th Anniversary shows in NYC, which was a definite highlight for me. I love when Vanian gets massively baritone. These “goth” moments are the one things that’s missing from The Damned’s otherwise quite good, and very recent, 2018 release Evil Spirits. The darker songs on Grave Disorder are all among the best on the album.

“She” is one of those rare moments Vanian gets all baritone while maintaining punk energy and speed. One of the neatest aspects of this album is how the band mixes all of their sounds both between and within songs.

“Lookin’ for Action” is probably the most current-sounding punk song The Damned’s ever done and ever will do. It also happens to be the first song I ever heard by them, so it holds quite a special place in my heart. This song was featured on the Nitro Records sampler Punkzilla. Talk about throwbacks!

“Would You Be So Hot (If You Weren’t Dead?)” features some great vocal melodies and backing vocal harmonies. Its relative lightness functions as excellent contrast between the high-octane energy of the preceding track, and the darkness of the following track “Absinthe”, where some old school horror-movie like theremin expertly sets the vibe here. The track stays dark, but gets surprisingly energetic towards the end. An excellent stylistic choice.

“Amen” is one of the bands most dense tracks ever recorded. With a run time of just under 8 minutes, this track features church bells over standard punk rock fare; Vanian’s baritone vocals; sampled spoken-word passages from a pastor or two; a couple extended, very Sensible-sounding guitar solos; organs, church or otherwise; layered vocal harmonies; and a 2+ minute sample-laden (both spoken word and musically), heavily programmed, outro piece. The band really lets loose here. This song is part of one small gripe I have with this album – it runs a bit long due to the bands tendency to be overly self-indulgent. You can also reference the minute-plus ending of “Lookin’ for Action” for this type of thing. Fortunately, 9 times out of 10, they have the talent and songwriting abilities to pull off whatever it is they go for… barring a few weak albums and sometimes testing your patience.

“Neverland” once again lightens the mood, being of a fast tempo and more upbeat sounding. The lyrical topic isn’t so bright of course, being about MJ and his, uh, relationship with kids. Yet again, this track features even more great vocal melodies, and let’s not neglect to mention Pinch’s phenomenal drum performance here. This dude makes it so you don’t even have to think about missing Rat Scabies. Seriously, his performances are just top-notch on this album, but especially impressive here.

I’ve mentioned in several reviews that I love it when bands ride the lines between light and dark, whether it’s in the same song or between songs. The Damned do that so well on this album. “‘Til the End of Time” brings back the darkness yet again, this time interestingly, with programmed drums instead of live drums. Dave Vanian’s vocal performance is chilling here. The choice of instrumentation also lends itself well to the mood being set here. Interestingly, though this is quite a Phantasmagoria-esque track, it was actually penned by Captain Sensible, who was not guitarist for that album.

“Obscene” is another one of those tracks that mix the bands various influences. It’s ostensibly a punk song, but there’s a lot more going on here than in your typical punk track, mostly thanks to the instrumentation and production. Speaking of which, the next track “W”, also features a heavy dose of sampling, looping, and programmed drums. Though the first chorus brings the live drums in. This may very well be the bands most diverse album. Lyrically and musically the band covers a lot of ground on Grave Disorder.

Speaking of diverse, before they send you off, a parting gift: the gothic, piano-driven “Beauty of the Beast” – one of my favorite Damned tracks, and an excellent album closer. Vanian’s vocal performance on here is riveting, being both quite moving and highly impassioned, all of The Damned’s best darker tendencies are on full-display here. The piano and keyboards on this track are simply wonderful, and with a remarkable crescendo, it’s all over. This is an impressive album by a band in any stage of their career, but releasing something this good 25 years on is damn impressive.

Highlights: “Song.com”, “Thrill Kill”, “Absinthe”, “‘Til The End of Time”, “Beauty of the Beast”
Rating: 4.5/5
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