Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March 16: The Damned, "Smash It Up, Pt. 2"

Artist: The Damned
Song: "Smash It Up, Pt. 2"
Album: Machine Gun Etiquette
Year: 1979

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The so-called “punk anthem” certainly comes with a large set of assumptions, and with good reason, as in most cases, they can be seen as following these “rules.”  Loud, fast, angry, simple, and universal; that is pretty much the formula by which punk “classics” live and die.  From “White Riot” to “Blitzkrieg Bop” to “Rise Above,” the mixture works perfectly, and yet the countless parade of bands who tried, but missed the mark somehow, proves that it is not that simple to create punk perfection.  Pushing this theory and point to the limit, there is the case of the one band who seemed to make it their job to push the limits of the punk sound: The Damned.  After blowing people away with their legendary debut record, Damned, Damned, Damned, the group when though a number of lineup changes, and returned with what is in many ways and anti-punk, punk classic with their landmark 1979 record, Machine Gun Etiquette.  With the departure of Brian James, it s understandable that the groups’ sound would change, however, one could never predicted that it would be so drastic; and more to the point, that it would be able to do so without alienating their fan base.  With a wide range of musical styles suddenly in plan, The Damned had clearly moved beyond the “three chord” approach, and yet the attitude and spirit behind the music is never lost, never anything less than punk.  Showing how one could play both sides simulationsly, there are few songs ever written that can compare to the sheer brilliance of The Damned’s 1979 classic, “Smash It Up Pt. 2.”

As the song opens, it appears to be a far cry from anything with a “punk” edge, perhaps only bearing a very slight resemblance to the sounds of the first Generation X record. The wonderfully melodic opening from Captain Sensible’s guitar, formally called “Smash It Up, Part 1,” finally gives way to the rest of the band, and yet the tone of the song does not change drastically.  When the song “formally” kicks into “Part 2,” strangely bright synthesizers lace the almost “pogo-ing” beat, and the band almost sounds like a more aggressive version of DEVO.  The musical progression is insanely catchy, and yet there is an edge to the entire song that keeps it firmly grounded in the punk attitude.  The tempo keeps building, as drummer Rat Scabies continues to push the song forward, building to a brilliant frenzy.  Keeping this build going strong, the newest addition to The Damned, bassist Algy Ward fits in perfectly with their sound, and one can make the case that it is his presence instead of James that stands as the most significant difference on this record.  The song is, in many ways, more pop than it is punk, and it is certainly one of the most easily accessible punk-type songs in history.  The fact that it is so musically distant from a majority of the "punk classics," yet so unquestionably punk in mood proves beyond a doubt that the idea of "punk" is not just a look or a sound, but it is about an entire attitude and approach to music making.  This is the reason why The Damned remain so highly respected, as musically, "Smash it Up, Pt. 2" is in a  category of punk all its own.

Along with the rather different musical approach, the vocals on "Smash It Up, Pt. 2" are not the "run of the mill" that had been found within the genre at the time.  Again straddling the line between the crass nature of the punk vocal, and a far more "formal" singing approach, Dave Vainian has rarely sounded better.  His singing is as igniting as the words, and the words themselves found the band in quite a great deal of controversy.  The words are simple enough, the title speaking for them, encouraging the listener to simply break everything.  Yet beneath this simple front, some of the most brilliant words ever written can be found, beginning with the rallying cry of, "We've been crying out now for much too long...and now we're gonna dance do a different song..."  In many ways, this perfectly captures everything it means to be young, which is where the punk ethos "lives," and while many songs share this sentiment, "Smash It Up, Pt 2" is in some ways, more proactive.  Instead of saying, "things suck, switch yourself off," the song encourages the youth to get up and make some noise, because they, "...don't wanna be a sucker like all the rest."  Truth be told, though the song was a short-lived hit, it was quickly banned from radio due to the anarchic, manifesto-esque words on the track, but the power of such a song could not be held back, and it remains one of the genres' finest moments to this day.  It is due to this fact that "Smash It Up, Pt. 2" proves beyond a doubt that "true" punk music lives in the attitude and words moreso than a simple, loud musical backing.

If there ever was a band that simply refused to be locked into a single sound, there are few more worthy of being named than The Damned.  Though they are still often written off as just one of the "UK punk pioneers," the fact of the matter is, The Damned pushed the limits on the genre more than nearly any other band in history.  From the straightforward punch of their debut to the stunningly ecelectic sounds found on 1979's Machine Gun Etiquette, The Damned stand as proof that though punk is often seen as little more than a look or style, deep in its heart, it is as diverse as any other genre.  Throwing their previous sound to the wayside, The Damned gave the world one of the most beautiful punk anthems ever written, as "Smash It Up, Pt. 2" is truly everything one could ever want in a punk song.  From the extraordinary melody to the inspiring lyrics, to this day, there are few songs that can still get people energized.  The fact that the band was able to achieve such power, whilst still keeping the song relatively quiet in sound serves as a testament to their creativity, and it paid off, as their fans grew to love them even more, as they were clearly far beyond their peers.  Though many anthems, of any genre, are often dated, the truly great songs will forever stand the test of time, and they embody the term "timeless."  WIthout question, standing high amoung these legendary songs, one must experience the power and sonic style that one finds within The Damned's stunning 1979 anti-anthem, "Smash It Up, Pt 2."


Anonymous said...

good pick...I first heard this song about a year ago and have loved it ever since.

Anonymous said...

I first heard this in the back of a car, going to meet my girlfriend in Hacienda Heights. I was only 14 so I couldn't drive and thankfully had no choice over the musical selection.