Despite the approval of another easier to handle vaccine today, the COVID-19 related news (is there any news that isn't COVID related these days?) has been very grim indeed. With a daily death toll of nearly 1000 people and 50,000 plus confirmed positive cases of infection it is quite clear that that pesky spikey ball of death still has the upper hand for some months to come. The inevitable consequence for us, the music fan, is that we are now increasingly in receipt of emails informing us that the tours that were rescheduled for the spring and summer of 2021 will not take place. This surely must be the case for the Damned reformation gigs planned for July.
This situation got me thinking. I did not buy tickets for these shows..... it wasn't the cost of the ticket, rather two other considerations. My prime reason for keeping my credit card in my wallet was the fact that I saw the original line up a few times when they came back in '88 but another reason was the fact that in my opinion, they have previously done 'Damned Damned Damned' to death. It always puzzled me that they partnered 'Damned Damned Damned' and 'The Black Album' on a tour when they have yet to showcase the full 'Strawberries' album. Now don't get me wrong I am fully appreciative of the fact that 'Damned Damned Damned' is a key album in the 1977 punk canon of work and moreover, the involvement of Brian James when playing those songs takes the occasion to another level, but 'my Damned' revolves around 'Machine Gun Etiquette', 'The Black Album' and 'Strawberries'.
Another frustration that I have with 1977 vintage Damned is their apparent shared contempt of their second album, 'Music For Pleasure'. Sure, it was a commendable attempt by the band to steer their sound in a different direction from the raw, breakneck tempo of the debut. One of the tensions felt within this fractious quartet of musicians was that 'Damned Damned Damned' was Brian's album since he was the one who penned the vast majority of it. That is one of the striking differences with 'MFP', the writing credits are significantly more varied. Some of the songs aren't that great but in my opinion others do work well, making the album a worthy follow up to 'Damned Damned Damned'.
I guess that some of the frustrations stemmed from bagging Pink Floyd's Nick Mason in to produce the album when it was Syd Barrett that they really wanted in the chair. The Pink Floyd drummers modus operandi in the studio was about as far removed from that of The Damned as could be. Like The Jam and The Stranglers, The Damned were following the industry standards for '60's bands who were expected to produce not one but two albums per year. For all three bands the pressure on them to produce that second album and one that would be as successful of their respective debuts was enormous. That pressure was compounded by weeks spent on the road during that whirlwind year. The Stranglers were saved by the fact that half of the material for a follow up was already written and well established in the band's live set. The Jam suffered as principal songwriter Weller succumbed to a period of writer's block. The Damned as I said made a valiant attempt to produce something different, an endeavor that in my opinion was largely successful.
Before stylus touched the vinyl, it was evident that The Damned were striving for something different. From the abstract Barney Bubbles cover art to the mysterious fifth member and second guitarist Lu on the reverse 'Music For Pleasure' was not to be a rehash of 'Damned Damned Damned', despite what the record company or fans wanted.
Released on 18th November 1977, the album failed to chart which was a blow to one of the premier league bands of punk. Contrast that with the performance of the competition's second albums of '77, 'This Is The Modern World' (also released on 18th November which peaked at #22) and 'No More Heroes' (which peaking at #2 even out performed 'Rattus'!). With these chart positions in mind, compare and contrast the critical reception of 'Music For Pleasure' and 'No More Heroes (reviews can be found here).
New Musical Express 5th November 1977
'No More Heroes' was pretty much slated by one and all, and by the same music journalists that has pored lavish praise upon 'Rattus' only six months previously. 'Music For Pleasure' got four star ratings in both Sounds (**** 'Good album, hear it if you can') and Record Mirror (**** 'Buy it'). Only the po-faced Melody Maker condemned it, but then again being Folk and Jazz orientated their critical view of punk was to be expected.
So what follows are three of the four main UK music weeklies opinions on the second album by The Damned (anyone got the NME review for completeness?). Click on the images to enlarge.