Stepping out from his role as one of two six-stringers in OJM, Italian guitarist Andrew Pozzy also takes on vocal duties with The Sade. The Padova trio’s debut, Damned Love (Go Down Records), is lucky 13 tracks of mostly straightforward, classically-minded – thinking more Led Zeppelin than Bach – heavy rock. Given OJM’s deeply individualized progressive bent and The Sade’s clear love of heavy ‘70s riffing, catchy songcraft and upbeat, energetic approach, I’m tempted to liken the differences between The Sade and OJM to those between Greenleaf and Dozer, but though there are some sonic similarities, particularly on the organ infused centerpiece “Borderline,” that’s mostly a conceptual analogy, rather than one of actual sonics. Damned Love mostly resides in the three-to-four-minute range in terms of its tracks, but in that time, the band – obviously led by Pozzy, but with the rhythm section of Mark Kimberly (bass and backing vocals) and Mat Zoombie (drums) also making formidable contributions – maintain the energy they put forth in their first couple songs, while also showing influences from punk and stoner rock.
The strive here isn’t so much to expand a sound or show sonic diversity as it is to work within a given structure to create something both familiar and unique. With the help of crisp production and a few guests along the way – Fab Shaman joins Kimberly on backing vocals on many of the tracks and OJM bassist Stefano Pasky handles organ and piano throughout, Lou Silver of Small Jackets contributes harmonica to “Dead Man’s Bones (The Dead Man Blues)” and engineer/mixer Maurizio Baggio adds percussion and guitar – The Sade does just that, sounding full but casual on gas pedal cuts like “Nice Trash” or the earlier “Run for Me Darling,” which features one of Damned Love’s most effective choruses. “Run for Me Darling” follows instrumental opener “Sadism,” which sounds to my Jerseyan ears like some of the guitar runs one might hear kicking off a record by a less fuzzed-out The Atomic Bitchwax, but is likely just getting down with the same Ritchie Blackmore jams. It’s a strong beginning for Damned Love, either way, and with “Live You Again” bringing a Social Distortion-type punkabilly feel – aided by Pasky’s piano – and all of the first three tracks being under three minutes, it’s clear The Sade wanted to start their debut with as much energy as possible. In this too, they meet with success.
For most straightforward rock albums of this ilk, 13 tracks seems a bit much on just a superficial level, but though they might cover some of the same ground more than once, most of the songs on Damned Love speed by so fast that redundancy isn’t an issue. “Demon’s Heart” and “Deaf Love” shift from the opening trio into a hook based groove that combines the sonic elements above while not losing sight of the need for catchiness – The Sade prove masters of the call and response as much as well-timed changes. “Deaf Love” starts with Zoombie drumming at a slower pace and a deeper lead vocal, creating almost a new wave feel, but Kimberly keeps the song grounded as it heads for the piano-infused chorus, setting up the slide guitar of swagger of “Dead Man’s Bones (The Dead Man Blues)” so that the vocal there doesn’t seem so out of place over Pozzy’s excellent lead work. At any given point on Damned Love, there’s a lot going into the mix, but Baggio did an excellent job with the mix, so that when the blues harp comes takes over from the guitar lead at about 1:26, the transition is so smooth that you barely realize it’s happened. Likewise, Damned Love isn’t overly smooth, keeping enough edge to make the punk side believable and the flow of cuts like “Borderline,” “Dream On” and “Love Lies” easy but still demanding attention to each song.
“Love Lies” is a highlight for its subtle shift back to rockabilly riffing and its memorable instrumental hook, and while “New Fetish Revolution” falls under the aforementioned heading of tracks that don’t really bring in anything new but speed by, it’s still another demonstration of The Sade’s tight performances and pop capability. The burst of energy in “Nice Trash” is contrasted by 57 seconds of noise and ambience on “Celebration,” and instrumental closer “Alcoholizer” – twice as long as many of Damned Love’s tracks at a sprawling 6:06 – caps the record with stonerly groove and a crunchier tone from Pozzy. Of course, Kimberly is going to stand out in such groove-oriented material, and he does, but Zoombie seems to hit harder as well, so that the rhythm altogether feels like a stronger element. As straightforward as it began is as noise as Damned Love ends, topped off with up-against-the-cabinet layers of feedback that gradually fade out over the last 40 seconds of “Alcoholizer.” It’s a surprising conclusion to a record that sets such an accessible course, but not completely out of line aesthetically, and the remaining impression when the album is over is of the songwriting on the 13 cuts preceding, rather than the abrasiveness of the finale. In a way, The Sade had that dangerous feel the whole time, so to have it come to a head makes sense. Whatever. Damned Love is an impressive and completely realized work, the quality of which undercuts the usually dismissive classification of “side-project.” Easily recommended for those about to rock.
Tags: Go Down Records, Italy, Padova, The Sade