Made at the height of the chromium dioxide era, this pre-record, released on the MCA label, forms a nice little nugget of nostalgia. With its black shell, silver paper label, and green tape leader, the cassette looks, as well as plays, like a quality product.
The album is 1986’s Anything, by The Damned, and it marks an interesting point in the band’s career. The broad overview in retrospect seems to be that the album was a mistake. It’s also recognised that the band were not really ready to make an album, and that much of the material was the result of contractual obligation rather than creative inspiration. But if you look at the progression of events leading up to Anything, and set it into its time, it’s a valid, and at its core a pretty clever musical statement.
In a nutshell, The Damned were one of the pioneer punk bands, releasing the first ever UK punk single in 1976, setting the template for punk music, and rocking hard to punk crowds, in punk venues, until summer 1984. There were gaps in their continuity, and the band’s music had incorporated ‘60s, goth and other rock influences, but basically they were punks, marketed to punks. Every band member had an individual look. There was no unified band image.
But after the departure of lead guitarist (and former bassist) Captain Sensible in 1984, the band headed much more deeply into the goth territory which was not only massively trending in the UK, but which had also been championed by lead singer Dave Vanian from the start. The goth craze, and the band’s closer connection with it, made The Damned widely marketable for the first time in their career. Having struck a deal with MCA records, they released the commercial goth album Phantasmagoria in 1985. Phantasmagoria nailed the Zeitgeist, and importantly, showed that the band, when spearheading popular trend rather than rebelling against it, could be highly successful.
Following Phantasmagoria and some singles from the album, The Damned had a major UK hit with the ‘60s cover Eloise. The ‘60s thing was another longstanding component of Damned musical culture (they’d regularly play ‘60s covers live, even in their punk phase). But like the goth element, the ‘60s influence had now struck a chord with a much wider audience.
Anything followed these great successes, and in terms of formula it was a logical progression. Every ingredient a marketing exec would have called for, is there. Loads of ‘60s features, amalgamated with goth undertones, pop awareness, the ‘new’ band’s own personality (characterised by Dave Vanian’s draculous crooning alongside Roman Jugg’s carefully crafted guitar work and ‘60s keyboards), and of-the-time production.
With hindsight, the production is the album’s greatest downfall. Most mid ‘80s production was awful – overprocessed, drowning in floods of expensive digital reverb and so hung up on perfect fidelity that virtually all of the character and personality was sucked out. Even good songs or interesting musical ideas end up functioning as background music. You put on an album, get sidetracked by something, and then about ten minutes later you realise that the album is still playing but your brain has completely missed everything that’s happened on it.
I’ve got studio demos of my own, made with bands I was a part of during ’86 and ’87, and they’ve all got that same blanket of processing and ‘verb that stifles everything into a backwater of virtual inconsequence. The technology was cool at the time, but massively overused.
Anything definitely suffers from that problem. I suspect it would be quite a revered album if the sounds had been allowed to breathe, and drummer Rat Scabies had been brought forward to drive the excitement as he had in early Damned recordings. But this was 1986. This was how commercial rock albums were made.
THE ACTUAL TAPE
It’s obvious that the tape is a CrO2 job, but just in case there was any doubt, a “Chrome for Quality” logo was added to the label. Taking into account the production style, I don’t think the record company could have dared not to give the cassette the chrome treatment. It’s vital that you hear all those breathy plate reverb tails and the top end glitter, because without that, picking out the detail of the arrangements would be a serious challenge, and much of the programme would be a dirge of ill-defined musical wallpaper.
The brightly painted carving on the inlay cover is very striking, but to me its personality seems very dark. I find it much more likely to prompt nightmares than the graveyard scene on the cover of Phantasmagoria. Anything’s cover was unquestionably a great piece of artwork, but I’m guessing a picture of the band tarted up as pretty-boys would have sold a lot more albums.
I don’t want it to sound like this is a bad album. It’s not. Clearly, a hell of a lot of effort went into it, and there’s some true gothic mastery among the many ideas. Notably, Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens (known for his work with Paul McCartney and many other huge names) is listed as one of the additional keyboard players, and there were clearly a lot of hands involved in the production, so this was a serious project.
I also think Psychomania is a fantastic track. The tragedy is that it wasn’t created a few years earlier and included on an album like Strawberries, which had a much more down to earth sound, and wasn’t processed into oblivion. Similarly, The Girl Goes Down would probably have been considered a goth classic had it been recorded as part of The Black Album. I’m not keen on the song Anything. I don’t really know why it was the title track.
In the end, the album had lots of quality ingredients, but mid 1980s production has a lot to answer for, and this is a perfect example of why the concept of turning each sound component into a dog’s dinner didn’t last.