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Wow - I'd figured that after breaking up, and hobbled by the loss of their chief songwriter Brian James, The Damned wouldn't have had much to offer from a reunion record. But instead The Damned re-emerge as a vastly improved band, leaning less towards simplistic bashers, and bringing in some strong psychedelic Goth and pop elements.

Not only has the band's playing improved to a level of basic competence (though there's still plenty of good sloppy fun thankfully), along with Dave Vanian's crooning - that's to be expected - but without James, the rest of the members prove themselves to be surprisingly good songwriters.

The album leads off with their UK Top 40 smash - Rat Scabies' "Love Song" - a typical Damned basher, but with a really good pop melody and a killer bass hook (courtesy of new member Algy Ward, ex-Saints) - great! "I Just Can't Be Happy Today" relies much more on keyboards than guitars, as the band try to stretch their musical boundaries beyond punk. Surprisingly, it works.

Old Damned fans won't be disappointed either, as about half the album consists of the bands' familiar three-chord Hard Rock. Only a sloppy cover of the MC5's "Looking At You", and Vanian's silly Goth ballad "These Hands" can be seen as truly weak points, and those are more than made up for by the album's best cut, Vanian's stunning Goth masterpiece "Plan 9 Channel 7".

The bonus tracks on the reissue are well worth getting to know too, except for two more poorly performed covers ... "Ballroom Blitz" and "White Rabbit". But among the bonuses is the B-side "Rabid (Over You)" - one of the band's best-ever songs - how did a song that good and catchy wind up being thrown away as a B-side?!

Machine Gun Etiquette is an important transitional album between punk rock proper and post-punk, and what's more it's good rock'n'roll for fans of any genre.

Rated:
by Reviewer: Creative Noise

Posted: Friday 25th Jul 2014 1:00 PM

review
As a child appearing on local television showing off clay figurines, Don Van Vliet clearly had some artistic or creative gift - he'd won a scholarship to study art in Europe, but his father declined on his behalf. Upon hooking up with Frank Zappa in college, the two of them collaborated on a number of musical projects, none of which got anywhere at all. They parted ways, with Frank going off to LA to form The Mothers Of Invention, and Don staying in Lancaster where he formed the first Magic Band.

Eventually, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band won a contract with A&M Records. That lasted just two singles - blasts of rhythm and blues that showcased Don Van Vliet's astonishing Howlin' Wolf sounding vocals. Then, upon signing to Buddah Records and without even a stable line-up, Don and company began work on their debut album Safe As Milk. Using guest musicians in places because the band 'couldn't cut it', and an engineer who transferred the original backing tracks from 8-track to 4-track because he was 'confused' from dealing with so many tracks - resulting in audio loss - the birth of Safe As Milk was far from easy. Even today, after many re-mastering jobs, album reissues still suffer from audible hiss, which is unfortunate, because this is an amazing collection of songs. But Safe As Milk works as a relatively easy entry into the often bizarre world of Captain Beefheart, containing 'proper' songs with graspable structures and melodies, albeit melodies on the outer edge of what was acceptable in 1967.

The theremin and the astonishing screamed vocals amid ghostly guitar that introduces "Electricity" is the furthest out that Safe As Milk gets, and that's just the song's introduction. Elsewhere, there's unusual rhythms along with odd melodies and sounds, but as I said, graspable songs, not least the gorgeous doo-wop of "I'm Glad".

It's hard to imagine any song other than "Sure Nuff N Yes I Do" to introduce Captain Beefheart - the guitar is the thing, played by gifted guitarist Ry Cooder, who departed Don and friends soon after these recordings to pursue his own ventures. And it's true of most of the songs on this album that the guitar is kind of free and 'floating' separately from the actual rhythms, something that would be developed in astonishing ways and really pushed in later Beefheart albums, where it would sound as if none of the musicians are even playing the same song! That effect isn't so pronounced on Safe As Milk, but it is noticeable. Take "Call On Me" - there's an energy and odd rhythmic flow, the like of which virtually nobody else was using at the time - the guitar sounds fantastic, and the song goes off into a driving instrumental before the good captain enters hollering and wailing. It really is astonishing the sounds these guys create.

One good thing about this album is that it flows. The recording troubles aren't reflected in the quality of the material or in the way the album holds together. So Safe As Milk is immensely listenable - the vocals of Don Van Vliet, along with his fairly surreal lyrics combined with the band's distinctive musical approach lends the album a certain something. It more than does it for me.

Rated:
by Reviewer: Adrian Denning

Posted: Friday 25th Jul 2014 5:15 PM

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