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The Damned The Damned
Album: Damned Damned Damned
Label: Stiff
Tracks: 12

The difference between good and great is often gauged in the most miniscule of measures - ask any athlete, they know. The same is true in dear old rock 'n' roll - ask any fan, they also know. And so it is with The Damned's New Rose. Yes, it was the first punk single, released in October 1976 a full five weeks before the Pistols' Anarchy, but without its defining moment of dazzling brilliance it might not be forever remembered as such.

It comes just after the intro, in the split-second half-breath before Dave Vanian's yowl introduces Brian James incendiary main guitar riff. In that twinkling moment every teenage urge, rush, rash and rage is brilliantly encapsulated and inexplicably contained. You can only ever hear it for the first time once and yet every subsequent hearing is just like that first one.

Even now, as the 40th anniversary edition of The Damned's cheap thrill of a debut album is unleashed, that musical tick - as momentary as it turned out to be momentous - is as downright magical as it ever was.

The album released in February 1977 that eventually grew around New Rose could never have lived up to its lurid promise, but it had a right good go. Produced with characteristic aplomb by the wonderful Nick Lowe, it captures many moments of energy and spikiness and captures them well, but it never had the backstory of the Pistols' debut or the intellectual rigour that went into the first Clash communiqué. In act, with its (then undeclared) roots in the sweat and fag ash of the capital's pub rock scene and deft assimilation of sixties tunefulness and R&B swagger it was to find a more ready playmate when The Jam's debut arrived a few months later, but which time of course that initial draught of punk optimism had distilled into a series of scams, slams and false stands.

Still, the brutality and brevity of Stab Yor Back still startles as does the scornful druggy exposition of 1 of the 2, while the dues-paying cover of the Stooges' 1970 (retitled I Feel Alright) is a pure adrenalin romp. Elsewhere, their mastery of pop basics like melody and hooks is ably demonstrated by their furiously fast second single Neat Neat Neat. Incredibly though, The Damned also found a back seat and slower tunes like Fan Club and Feel the Pain sound like a blueprint for Gothic gore-pop.

To celebrate four (count 'em!) decades since the album's arrival in the racks and its inclusion in BMG's 'Art of the Album' series, Vanian and Captain Sensible are taking the latest incarnation of The Damned back on the road and we have a new edition of the record. Now fully re-mastered it is no doubt aurally faultless but it doesn't feel quite the same as my old copy. No matter, this set delivers loads of sleeve notes and interviews by early punk commentator John Ingham as well as a great booklet design, making it sufficiently different from the extras-laden 30th anniversary edition and the four-disc deluxe set from five years ago, to turn heads.

Nick Churchill