Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Stranglers - Rattus Norvegicus (1977)

  

Released April 1977

Recorded at TW Studios, Fulham, London

Let me say, first of all, that this is a good album and one I occasionally enjoy. However, I have always had a few problems with The Stranglers' "punk credentials".

To the album first. Released at the height of the punk explosion in 1977, there are some copper-bottomed classics of the era on here. The Stranglers' organ-dominated, Doors-influnced "punk" gave birth to excellent tracks like the sneering, menacing "Hanging Around", the now iconic, leery (and at times puerile) "Peaches" and the one teenagers at the time thought was a punk reference to self abuse in "Get A Grip (On Yourself)", which was not the case. The extended release includes the upbeat non-album single "Go Buddy Go" as well.

Now, to the band. Were they punk or not? Or were they gnarled old pub-rockers? I suspect the latter, certainly in the case of drummer Jet Black and keyboardist Dave Greenfield. Singer Hugh Cornwell too, let's be honest. Yes, he may have used his particularly offensive brand of sexism on a few offended hotel receptionists but I always felt him to be a bit of a fraud. Bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel seemed the most credible - a French name, punky pretty boy brooding looks, leather jackets and a penchant for kick boxing fights with members of other punk bands. Their album was named after a species of rat and they showed one on the rear cover to show that they were "down with the pestilent image of punk" (a bit like fellow possible fraud, Rat Scabies of The Damned). Their name made out they strangled things. They sung about sewers and being on the end of skewers and they sneered in both their delivery and enunciation. Given all that, ok maybe they did fit the punk ethos as much as diplomat's son Joe Strummer did, or posh boy gone bad Tom Robinson. Certainly there was "something of the night" about them.

Rant over. You probably disagree with me - I just had to get it off my chest. At the time I was not convinced by The Stranglers, why, many of their fans were those who also liked Pink Floyd and ELP (in my experience anyway!). People used to say “I don’t like punk, but I like The Stranglers”.I guess I should just let it go. Indeed I must have to a extent because I own own ten Stranglers albums. This, their debut is one of the best. Pub rock relics or not, it has a rough and ready appeal in tracks like the mysterious "Princess Of The Streets" and the punky "London Lady" which still resonates. 

“Sometimes” is a great opener - swirling organ, pounding drums and that deep, sneering supposedly vocal. An excellent Doors-style instrumental break in the middle. The same thing is repeated in “Goodbye Toulouse”. Musically, The Stranglers were always better than the punk oiks they pretended to be. Even in the punkier tracks like “London Lady” there is always a killer instrumental break. These were not two and a half minute punk thrashes, many of the tracks were four minutes plus in length and quite sprawling. Why, “Princess Of The Streets” had a guitar solo! It has to be said that musically, of course, they were ahead of The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Buzzcocks etc. Not surprising, as they had several years more of practice.


Similarly, “Down In The Sewer” is a sprawling seven minute concoction featuring several mini tracks (so much for blowing away all those boring old “prog rockers”!), most of which go on about rats and sewers, diseases and so on. All seems very contrived, as indeed did the infantile “Ugly”Good album as it was, they were a sham in so many ways. Not punks.

B-

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