The Damned - Machine Gun Etiquette - Review
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critics' view

The Damned were one of the first British punk bands to release singles and albums. They got a headstart over rivals the Sex Pistols and were a group full of volatile personalities who could explode at any given moment – musically and emotionally! But unlike the much overrated Sex Pistols, The Damned could actually play their instruments and write catchy tunes. They excelled at the art of creating good ole fashion sloppy rock n roll and when they did actually get along with one another, the Damned were capable of making some outstanding music. Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies, and Dave Vanian were all rock n roll wildmen and contributed greatly to the Damned’s unique sound and group concept. Alongside their debut Damned Damned Damned, Machine Gun Etiquette is one of two Damned classics and a must own for fans of popular punk rock.

Machine Gun Etiquette was released by Chiswick in 1979, a year in which many punk artists were simmering down, writing more pop friendly material. The group had briefly broken up only to rejoin again without the help of guitarist Brian James. Saints (another fantastic group) bassist Alby Ward was brought in to fill in the missing gaps and give the group a fuller sound. I think Machine Gun Etiquette is a much stronger effort than 1977’s Music For Pleasure – an album that was produced by Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason. Etiquette seems to pay homage to many of the Damned’s classic rock heroes, most notably the MC5 and the Doors. So in this sense Machine Gun Etiquette has more of a classic rock feel, notable for its strong garage rock and psychedelic influences. They cover the MC5’s Looking At You and while not as good as the original, the Damned’s version still packs a visceral punch to the gut. These Hands has some cool fuzz guitars but also recalls the Doors’ carnival organ sound of Alabama Song – even the vocals sound like a punked up Lizard King. Another track, I Just Can’t Be Happy has that vintage American garage ethic, right down to the cheap organ sound and classic handclaps – great song, should have been a hit. The first two tracks on the album, Love Song (check out that thick, dense bass work) and Machine Gun Etiquette are a bit more original, both being breakneck punkers of the highest order. Vocals and searing guitar solos create a pile-driving intensity, this was some of the most exciting music the Damned had ever laid to wax. Anti-Pope, Melody Lee, the experimental Plan 9 Channel 7, Liar and Noise, Noise, Noise (there’s some nice feedback on this tune) were just as good and furious garage punk-rockers in their own right. The whole album is very consistent and possibly the best disc this group has ever recorded – depending on your point of view. Machine Gun Etiquette has lots of pounding drums, angry vocals, inventive guitar solos and even a few weird experiments. It’s an album that’s bound to please both garage and punk fans.

The 80s were very unkind to the Damned as they suffered a major downward spiral. The group plunged headfirst into the New Wave/Post-Punk scene and while doing so lost all credibility with the underground rock community. Their true forte was rock n roll and during the early to mid 80’s the group released a series of half-baked goth-rock albums. In terms of quality, none of these later albums came close to their 1977 debut or Machine Gun Etiquette. The great thing about Machine Gun Etiquette is that it’s rock n roll pure and simple, hit home straight as an arrow. There are no MTV pop or reggae tracks that plague this album, just straight up rock n roll. Groups like the Clash, the Jam, and PIL were notorious for sticking a few awful reggae or soul experiments on their albums – you could call this branching out but it definitely diluted the impact of a punk record. So it is with these two early albums that the Damned’s reputation rests firmly as one of the most visionary punk rock groups ever. This is a great record similar in style to Wire’s equally good 154 lp – try playing these two scorchers side by side!

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