If ever there was a tale that needed to be gouged from between the cracks in the vast landscape of dull, scholastic literature that’s been accorded the 70s’ punk millieu over the subsequent decades, and told properly, it is that of The Damned. The Clash mattered, we’re always being told in italicised emboldened fonts. The Sex Pistols changed everything, generations of received wisdom persistently insists. But The Damned (snort) were nothing but custard pies and plastic sunglasses.
Well, that’s just bollocks, for a start. The Damned weren’t just the first punk band to vinyl, to America, to difficult second album, to acrimonous split, they also provided the enduring punk blueprint. And while, yes, it was the Sex Pistols who provided the spark to light the bonfire, The Clash who endowed the nascent genre with its left-leaning politics of inclusion and the Ramones that first distilled sonic delinquency’s elemental ramalam into saleable two minute chunks, it’s 1977’s Damned that every punk band extantstill tirelessly emulates from gonk hairstyle to yobbish buffoonery. There’s never been a convincing American Sex Pistols; Rancid persist in aping The Clash (with about as much style as Jobriath did Bowie), but Damneds? From Dickiesto Green Day and beyond, the children of The Damned are absolutely everywhere.
Smashing It Up knows its audience, it plays the hits. We’re not bogged down in too much preparatory background checking. Pre-punk lives aren’t fine toothed combed, and after Anything’s relative post-Eloise flop it ends up as something of a romp for its finish line, but the decade it covers in-depth marks the band’s golden era. And not just artistically and commercially. A hell of a lot happened between ’76 and ’86 and most of it happened to The Damned. While Kieron Tyler’s writing style isn’t exactly marked by its ornature and flair, it keeps the pages turning and, ultimately, gets the job done.We learn how the band rose from roots in the London SS, and Damned Damned Damned producer Nick Lowe considered them ‘obnoxious mouthy geezers’. Tough words, but judging by all subsequent descriptions of their behaviour, ‘obnoxious’ merely scratches the surface. From top to toe, The Damned’s career has been marked by mayhem, and when has that particular ingredient never been the essence of great rock biography?