Damage : Since You’ve Been Gone

Emma Bunton's boyfriend's band release their new album...

It’s been three years since Damage dropped their debut album. Then they disappeared, and though ‘Forever’ went gold and scored top ten hits, such as ‘Love Guaranteed’, ‘Wonderful Tonight’ and ‘Love II Love’, it hardly warranted such a premature hiatus.

Since then, though, there’s been a certain babydoll Spice Girl connection with Jade, and Coree has somewhere, somehow become a sex symbol. But most importantly, British R&B has reached a level of independence and maturity that any serious soulster could work wonders with – maybe that was what the boys (oops, they prefer to be called men) were waiting for.

Judging from the texture of ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’, the break has done them good. They’ve left behind the pop that laced the debut (though they will deny until the end that it even existed), and replaced it with something more classic. Their best songs straddle eras: the hard-hitting disco funk of ‘For Your Pleasure’; the rich harmonies and ambling melody of ‘Still Be Lovin’ You’; and the Damage take on the enduring, Spanish-guitar-lined ‘Maria’ theme started off by Santana and here featuring the magic vocals of the omnipresent Kele Le Roc (someone please give her a record deal) – this is by far the album’s best track, and Kele puts Emma Bunton’s half-expected cameo on ‘I Don’t Know’ (the one with the intolerable bass line) to shame.

This will be a pleasant surprise to anyone who had left Damage for dead, or worse still, dismissed them as a boyband. They’re more Mint Condition than Westlife with a distinct potential to take UK R&B to a new level.

Diana Evans