I’ll admit it – four years ago, The Damage Manual came close to redeeming rock music for me, after a period of maybe a decade when I’d bought perhaps a half-dozen new releases and confined myself to listening to jazz, “classical,” and various “world” musics. With the EP >1 and the album The Damage Manual (both 2000), the group somehow made the whole bass-guitar-drums-voice combination viable again for me, in ways that young upstarts like The Strokes and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn’t managed.
It’s not that The Damage Manual was particularly new in any chronological sense. The youngest member, Chris Connelly, was (God help him) just my age, and the instrumentalists were long-time veterans of the punk and industrial scenes: Geordie (Walker), the guitarist of Killing Joke; the bassist Jah Wobble, who got his start with John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. and has since dabbled in world, ambient, and dub forms; and the drummer Martin Atkins, also a PiL veteran who over the past two decades has built his Chicago-based Invisible Records label into a minor “industrial” industry, spearheaded by his own band Pigface. The Damage Manual was in short a post-punk/industrial superground, and their first two records are a remarkable marriage of relentless electronic grooves and jaw-rattling live musicianship. The locus classicus remains the opening track from >1, “Sunset Gun,” which begins with burst of turntable scratching and electronic noise before settling into a mid-tempo groove reminiscent of Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.”
All this as prelude to the news that The Damage Manual’s third release, Limited Edition, is flatly disappointing. In fact, it’s hard not to be insulted by the fact that Limited Edition has been released under The Damage Manual moniker at all. Gone is Wobble, whose room-filling bass lent a vertiginous depth to the first recordings; gone is Geordie, whose open tunings and bagpipe drones bear resemblance to few other guitarists. Atkins and Connelly still frown at us from the band photo, but most of the instrumental chores have fallen to Steve Siebold, a long-term veteran of the industrial scene and leader of the band Hate Department. The magic is gone, and instead we are given thirty-plus minutes of competent but not particularly moving industrial rock. There’s a minor moment of redeption at the end, where they’ve tacked on a wonderfully eccentric remix of the old track “Expand,” morphed into something like industrial jazz (!) by Can keyboardist Irmin Schmidt. But even that feels like a space filler. Give Limited Edition a miss; drop by the Invisible Records site and take advantage of their insultingly affordable prices on >1 and The Damage Manual.
Eric Selinger has begun a blog under the sprightly title "Say Something Wonderful." Its focus looks to be in part a pedagogical one – the teaching of poetry – which is grand, because those of us penned in the academy know what it’s like to deal with the effects of the indifferent (or worse) teaching of poetry; and teachers of poetry, I suspect, don’t come much better than Eric. Even more attractive to me is Mr. S’s avowed intention of attending to the pleasure of poetry. He is, in short, a certified hedonist, more likely to be reading Bridget Jones than Gayatri Spivak, getting more from Austen’s Sense and Sensibility than Austin’s Sense and Sensibilia, more inclined to tumescent volumes where bodices get ripped than slim collections whose syntax is decorously disshevelled.
Now we here at Culture Industry feel obliged to distrust pleasure. (By “we,” of course, I mean me – that’s the theoretical collective “we.” Did Teddy Wiesengrund reach for his revolver when he heard the word “pleasure”?) But if anyone’s going to change our mind with lively writing and spot-on one-liners, it’s Eric Selinger. Stay tuned.