Dave Vanian says Darkadelic, the title of the Damned’s new album, is meant to be both evocative and open-ended.
“What is it?” the vocalist and band co-founder muses to Billboard. “Perhaps a box of deluxe chocolates full of delicious and surprisingly delightful flavors, a journey to the id, self-expression or discovery. A dark tale of intrigue heavily laced with noir, romantic Gothic melodrama, a first kiss, a dangerous drug, dark love…. Truly it will represent a myriad of things to the individual and is, as it should be, defining but also undefined.”
Guitarist Captain Sensible (aka Raymond Burns) is more succinct, however. “I’m guessing it means it’s dark and it’s psychedelic,” he says with a laugh.
The Damned’s 12th studio album, and first in five years, was “pretty much finished” before the 2022 reunion tour of the original quartet, who were the first U.K. punk band to release a single (“New Rose” in October 1976) and to tour the U.S. Darkadelic reflects the band’s continuing musical evolution; its usual gothic-flavored drama is intact, but filled with intricate instrumental dynamics and textures — particularly on “Western Promise,” a song with soundscapes that are accented by trumpets and sonic nods to ’80s new romantic fare.
“For me, the only criteria was to have this album driven by more pronounced guitars,” says Vanian. “The album took on its own identity compared to our last (2018’s Evil Spirits). Plus, wanting it to sound sonically inspiring when heard on iPad or phone, a slightly more modern sound, if you will, without effecting or compromising what we do.” Sensible notes that, “We always set out to do something a little bit different. We get bored doing the same thing over and over. The first rule of the Damned is there are no rules.” The direction, he adds, “Wasn’t a conscious decision or anything. We just came together with our own demos and certain tracks got chosen and it did take on a life of its own, as they all do, and that’s the album.”
Sensible says Darkadelic was very much a band effort by the current quintet, with drummer Will Taylor making his first appearance on a Damned album. “We chose the tunes and started bashing them out, all five of us, just being a band,” says Sensible, who describes his long relationship with Vanian as friendly but “quite competitive.” “We were in there making our own holy din for most of the day for, I dunno, two weeks. It got quite hot in there.” But he and Taylor did spend some time working out arrangements for the 12 tracks during sessions with producer Thomas Mitchener (La Roux, the Futureheads) at studios near London.
“We actually sat down and we listened to a few Beatles songs, ’cause the songs were so beautifully arranged on those,” says Sensible. “Ringo (Starr), whatever anybody says about his drumming, I think the guy’s immense. He always did the right thing at the right time. We really arranged the drums for what’s right for the song. There was a lot of brainstorming during those two weeks of laying down the basic tracks.”
Sensible credits “quite a lot of jamming” for the “soundtracky” reach of “Western Skies,” while the first single, “The Invisible Man,” was influenced by an affinity for ’60s garage rock bands such as the Seeds and the Chocolate Watchband. “Follow Me” fuses a modern rockabilly verse with an anthemic chorus, while the explosive “Wake the Dead” came from Vanian and Sensible being 66 and 68 years old, respectively. “We’re of an age now when people you know start kicking the bucket,” the guitarist explains. “I go to funerals more often than I used to. I do dabble in the social networks and you see they played ‘Smash It Up’ at somebody’s funeral or, ‘We played ‘Love Song’ at my dad’s funeral. That was his favorite.’ So I thought, ‘Well, they’re playing these songs ’cause the deceased love the band. Why not write one actually for that purpose?’ So that was the idea, really. It’s a heroic kind of goth song because you’re laughing in the face of mortality. We’re all gonna go, so don’t get depressed about it and overthink it. I always celebrate the life rather than mourn the parting moment…so why not give them a really heroic, ‘F–k the Grim Reaper’ song?”
Also intriguing is the galloping “Leader of the Gang,” a not particularly veiled elegy to disgraced rocker Gary Glitter, who’s back in jail after violating probation conditions related to his child sexual abuse conviction.
“He got caught doing some really sh-t things and spent some time in prison — deservedly so,” Sensible says. “But the thing is the music was absolutely magnificent and so influential. They don’t play his music on the radio anymore in Britain, and for me that’s a shame. His band didn’t do anything wrong, and they can’t get a gig anymore. Do you ban the music or the art? If you ban one person you have to follow that and ban loads of people because some of these creatives have some some pretty sh-t stuff in their lives. [Some of them are] very, very famous people, film directors and politicians… where do you stop?”
After a European tour earlier this year, the Damned come across the pond for a half-dozen U.S. west coast dates starting May 20 in San Francisco before playing New Zealand and Australia during June and the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool, England, in early August. “We haven’t done a lot of gigs with this lineup, so it’s nice things are opening up again,” Sensible says. “Live music’s really taken a hit and a lot of venues didn’t make it. The musicians are just the tip of the iceberg; you don’t see all the support people, the venue staff and the crews and the logistics people. It’s having to revive in a way.”
He’s also amenable to doing more gigs with original bandmates Brian James and Rat Scabies after last fall’s five-show run in the U.K. “They were an absolute revelation, to be quite honest — musically and socially,” Sensible says. “There was a point about 10 years ago when we all stopped slagging each other off; the fact we all made up and like each other again is just incredible to me because it was extremely bitter. (laughs) But we all got on. It was really strange backstage — everyone’s smiling at each other, arms around each other’s shoulders and stuff, really great. So I would love to work with them again, in that or another capacity.”