There’s never been a band who can sound so serious when they’re dorking around like the Damned. If they didn’t have a sorta-satirical punk past, one might be inclined to think the Damned’s first record in seven years was an anachronism that’s taking itself way too seriously. And maybe it is.
So, Who’s Paranoid? draws mostly from the band’s Gothy early-’80s material. Dave Vanian’s suave croon and Captain Sensible’s sturdy guitar work are the only original parts of what was the first band to release a punk rock album in Britain, but they’re complemented competently, especially by keyboardist Monty Oxymoron, who almost steals the show with his lively playing.
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The record opens with the peppy but gloomy “A Nation Fit for Heroes,” which bemoans the world—while caffeinated keys dance behind the vocal melody. “Under the Wheels” and “Little Miss Disaster” find Vanian opening his pipes to sound like Ian McCulloch by way of Ian Curtis. He sounds like a Goth lounge singer, wondering without pretense why people cherish diamonds as he snaps, “Compressed carbon is what they are/No more useful than a candy bar!” on “Shallow Diamonds.” Later, Oxymoron slides over to the piano for “Since I Met You,” a wanky ballad that drips with melodramatic cheese. It’s hard to tell if the message is intentionally over-the-top with vocals such as Vanian’s—is his tongue in his cheek, or his heart on his sleeve? And just who is this “Dr. Woofenstein” character that Vanian and the Brighton Gay Men’s Choir sing of with such theatrics? Finding out doesn’t really matter because the songs—except the slow ones—happen to be ridiculously catchy, no matter how out of place they seem.