Who passed Captain Sensible the bong? “Keep ‘Em Alive,” the first song on The Rockfield Files, the new EP from the band once thought of as one of the godfathers of goth, is a fake out. It starts off with a somewhat spooky vocal from Dave Vanian before going into a very Beatlesque take on rock ‘n’ roll—and not the mop-top years. Given that this EP arrives in October, it would seem that the band hasn’t lost their self-awareness, so why now are we getting songs about bumblebees? They might not be reading the room, but on The Rockfield Files the band at least sounds great, and Vanian’s voice sounds both expressive and dramatic, to the point where, on “The Spider the Fly,” the end product is something like Tom Jones jamming with Steppenwolf.
The Damned‘s classic sound is not totally forsaken here. “Manipulator” comes much closer to their old-school punk rave-ups. There’s nothing wrong with a band deciding to go in a weird direction, especially one that captures their signature mood. Here, the closest the band comes to their signature, darker subject matter is on the last song “Black is the Night,” whose melody brings to mind The Monkees of all things. Despite the fact that this was recorded at the same farm where they captured the sessions for The Black Album (this time with Ghost producer Tom Dalgety—a fact that might explain a thing or two depending on your reaction to these songs), this isn’t the same Damned of “Wait for the Black Out.”
If you did ask Captain Sensible after passing him the joint, he would probably tell you they never set out to be goth in the first place. He might go into a coughing fit if you show him pictures from the ’80s of Dave looking like Sweeney Todd. Despite the initial shock, Rockfield Files did grow on me. Vanian sounds great, which is a major selling point for this batch of songs. Yet a release of this ilk likely might take some getting used to for those who still have a very specific image of The Damned in their minds. But for anyone who stuck around for all the changes the band has gone through over the years, then this will just seem like the next logical step.
Label: Search and Destroy