If you look up “supergroup” in your imaginary dictionary of rock terms, you’ll probably arrive at the same definition as I did: “An ensemble of has-beens given to narcissistic — often stadium friendly — displays of inconsequential and anachronistic ‘musicianship,’ generally performed with the aid of walking frames, Rogaine and Viagra.”
Bearing that in mind, can we expect anything seriously worthwhile and relevant from the Damage Manual, a band comprising PiL alumni Jah Wobble and Martin Atkins, Killing Joke’s Geordie Walker and ex-Ministry/Revolting Cocks frontman Chris Connelly?
Of course we can. The Damage Manual are not your common or garden geezers. When Guardian journalist Dave Simpson recently observed that Wobble et al. were “men who look like they’ve spent several years in institutions,” he had in mind not old people’s homes but, rather, correctional or psychiatric facilities. Apparently, this album was to have been called Music To Be Murdered By and, in keeping with the spirit of that discarded title, from start to finish it’s a tour de force of total sonic disturbance that makes for brilliantly uneasy listening.
And about time too. The Damage Manual are making music dangerous again and showing up a current crop of Brit bands — who are getting young enough to be their offspring — as (mostly) a bunch of bed-wetters and bores.
While they boast some seriously heavyweight musical pedigrees, the Damage Manual strike a compelling balance between their own tried and tested signatures (Wobble’s earth-moving bass, Atkins’ punishing drums, Geordie’s grinding guitar) and a new synthesis of all the above, supplemented, of course, with Connelly’s vocals that alternate between the maniacally urgent and the quietly melodic and threatening. On top of that, you can factor in a Pandora’s box of scratches, samples and synths as well as the mixing skills of Bill Laswell and the Orb.
From the crashing menace of the opening track (“King Mob”) onward, this album is a beautiful monster. For the most part, it hinges on a careful building and working through of textures and rhythms, albeit never in a pedestrian or predictable fashion. The insistent bass and relentless beat of “Denial” and the sheer drive of “Broadcasting,” with its frenzied rush of drums and percussion — that eventually let the bass and guitar in on the act — are textbook exercises in a stand-off between craft and chaos. On the other hand, there are more rock-based, explosive tracks like “The Peepshow Ghosts” and the standout “Sunset Gun,” that center on Geordie’s abrasive, weaving guitar patterns and Atkins’ Richter-scale drumming.
Britain’s first post-punk, post-industrial, post-millennial supergroup restores some much needed credibility to a category that, since Cream, has been a polite way of saying “a load of boring old bollocks.” This eponymous album shows that musicianship is not necessarily a dirty word, especially when it’s shot through with such attitude and energy.