Wednesday, 9 January 2019

The Stranglers



"The Battersea Park incident was completely misinterpreted. I was living with my girlfriend, Tracy, who shared her flat with a stripper called Linda. When we became the focus of attention, right-on shops such as Rough Trade banned our records, saying they were sexist and misogynist. So Linda said: "Look, I've got some friends who'd love to strip for you – to show we're in control of our bodies." So these girls stripped off on stage at Battersea during 'Nice 'n' Sleazy' and, of course, everyone thought we were being exploitative" - Jean-Jacques Burnel

Rattus Norvegicus (1977)


Sometimes/Goodbye Toulouse/London Lady/Princess Of The Streets/Hanging Around/Peaches/(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)/Ugly/Down In The Sewer        

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 ageing 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 way ahead (at the time) 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 UglyGood album as it was, they were a sham in so many ways. Not punks.


  

No More Heroes (1977)


I Feel Like A Wog/Bitching/Dead Ringer/Dagenham Dave/Bring On The Nubiles/Something Better Change/No More Heroes/Peasant In The Big Shitty/Burning Up Time/English Town/School Mam          

This was more organ-powered, Doors-influenced "punk" material from this group of experienced, gnarled old pub rockers masquerading as punks. That said, they had the image, they wore leather jackets, they insulted hotel receptionists and they went on about rats and sewers. My doubts over their punk credibility aside, they put out good albums and they could play, that was in no doubt. This album was more punky in its sound than its predecessor, their debut, Rattus Norvegicus, however. There was more edge, verve and attack. It was probably The Stranglers' album that was their closest approximation to punk, it has to be said. Maybe it was "art-punk" or whatever.
                  
I Feel Like A Wog is offensive in its title, although it makes its point. Musically, it is frantic, full of swirling, parping organ, dense guitars and what are at times madcap, incomprehensible vocals. Hugh Cornwell's sneering delivery adds to the punk impression. 

Bitching is similarly keyboard-powered and gruff in its vocals. "Why don't you all get screwed ....." growls Cornwell. It all sounds pretty puerile now, however. It is redeemed by some sharp guitar near the end. 

Dead Ringer repeats the bass riff from Peaches to an extent and Cornwell's lascivious vocals lend it a sleazy appeal, but otherwise it is pretty average, with an oikish chorus. 

Dagenham Dave has a punky riff and more of that trademark organ but somehow its lacks a bit of real vitality despite its apparent energy. It actually sounds a bit lazy. There are many, of course, who absolutely loved The Stranglers, but, for me, they never quite did it. I have to say, though, there is an inventive bit of quirky keyboard fun near the end of this one.

 

Bring On The Nubiles is mysoginistically puerile and hasn't aged well. Comparative old men like The Stranglers should have known better. Their aficionados will cheerfully tell you that it was all tongue in cheek. No, I don't buy that. That was the way they were. Fair enough. No need for excuses.

Now we get a couple of excellent tracks. Both were hit singles. The insistent, grinding Doors-esque Something Better Change and the catchy No More Heroes. The latter often makes it on to a punk playlist as a classic example of the genre. That is debatable, but it certainly is so redolent of 1977-78 and takes me back to those times. Both of these cuts are far superior to anything else on the album previously. 

Peasant In The Big Shitty has a strange appeal, it is sort of post punk in its vibe and the vocals are ridiculously camp, oddly. 

Burning Up Times has a punk energy and anger about it. Once again the organ from Dave Greenfield dominates proceedings. 

English Town is similarly short as the previous track had been. It is rather sad and melodic, despite its lively tempo.

The extended School Mam has a post punk style backing and a cynical lyric about education. It is the most innovative track on the album, but becomes somewhat ponderous by its last two minutes. Personally, this is not an album I return to very often. The current remaster is pretty good but it still sounds quite dated. Oh, maybe I'm being a bit harsh, I have quite enjoyed the last half hour. That doesn't mean I still don't think there was something a bit unconvincing about The Stranglers, particularly during this part of their career. They were better on later albums when they were not supposed to be punks.


 

Black And White (1978)


Tank/Nice N' Sleazy/Outside Tokyo/Hey! (Rise Of The Robots)/Sweden (All Quiet On The Eastern Front)/Toiler On The Sea/Curfew/Threatened/In The Shadows/Do You Wanna/Death And Night And Blood (Yukio)/Enough Time                                                
Now, I have called into question The Stranglers' punk credentials a few times in my reviews, but, for me, I find this excellent album to be their most punky, and most credible. The old "side one" or "white side", in particular, is vibrant, rocking, punky, bassy, thumping and an example of cleverer songwriting than on the first two albums. On the "black side", in many ways, The Stranglers are starting to exude signs of post punk pretty early on. On the other hand, the fist pumping punk fans are still kept happy, most of the time. The Doors-like organ dominates, as before, the riffs are chunky and strong and the drums and bass muscular. The puerile mysoginism has been replaced by subtler, wry lyrics. Personally, I much prefer this album to the previous two. By far.

Tank is a lively track, powered by what was by now a typical Stranglers, swirling keyboard sound, together with some strong riffs and punky vocals. 

Nice 'n' Sleazy is my favourite Stranglers track. It is broody and malevolent, mysterious in its lyrics and deliciously sleazy, would you believe. Excellent alternate speaker noises in the middle too. The keyboard intro Outside Tokyo is a forerunner to Golden Brown. The track is a convincing, slow burning, "post punk" feeling one. Once again, it shows just what better quality material the group were suddenly coming up with. The sound quality is excellent too. 

Hey! Rise Of The Robots is a breakneck punker, sort of TRB meets The Clash. Hugh Cornwell's vocals here are reminiscent of Joe Strummer in places. Sweden (All Quiet On The Eastern Front) is another fast-paced punky number, with those trademark organ breaks to the fore again.

Toiler On The Sea is an impressive punky post punk number, all sorts of sounds floating here and there over its lively backing and more beguiling lyrics. The old "black side" starts with Hugh Cornwell channelling his inner Johnny Rotten on a future-shock song, Curfew, about the government fleeing to Scotland in a post-apocalyptic world. Threatened is the group's most "industrial", post punk number to date, full of dense guitar sounds, deep keyboards and those typically sonorous post punky vocals. 

In The Shadows also ploughs a similar furrow, sounding like Joy Division or Gang Of Four would sound like a year or so later. This was a far more influential album than it was ever really given credit for. I like the spooky, edgy feeling to this material, particularly this song. The Stranglers were really becoming credible here.

Do You Wanna has some raw guitar riffage and staccato drums in its intro and Cornwell remembers that he likes to sneer occasionally in his vocal delivery and the old cynicism is back, lyrically. 

Death And Night And Blood (Yukio) has some punky edginess to it and a few echoes of 1977, but they are convincing ones. The recording is a bit scratchy near the end, the one small down point regarding the sound. The keyboard on Enough Time is almost like an Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark riff. Once again, a year or so before that sort of electronica caught on.

Overall, this was a pretty ground-breaking album, although it was never really acknowledged as being such. It definitely set the tone for The Stranglers' subsequent albums.


 

The Raven (1979)


Longships/The Raven/Dead Loss Angeles/Ice/Baroque Bordello/Nuclear Device/Shah Shah A Go Go/Don't Bring Harry/Duchess/Meninblack/Genetix                  

After their pub rock, Doors-influenced approximation of punk of their first two albums and the adventurous experimentation of Black And White, by 1979, The Stranglers had gone pretty much full-on upbeat post-punk, with Kraut-rock and art-rock influences. It is most certainly not a punk album. Personally, I much prefer this material from them than their 'punk' offerings, which I always felt were somewhat awkwardly pre-meditated. I feel this is the group doing what they were far more comfortable doing, at the same time testing their musicianship and songwriting too. It was here that they showed that they were a good band as opposed to pointlessly-aggressive, posturing oiks. This is a serious, creative album and not remotely commercial. It doesn't jump on any bandwagon, either. Despite that, it was very successful.
                         
Longships is a brief, upbeat, organ-driven instrumental to start the album before the post-punk intro to The Raven kicks in, together with the sort of European-style keyboard riff that The Stranglers would come to specialise in over the next few years. It is a great track, full of swirling, moody atmosphere. 

Dead Loss Angeles is another in the same brooding, sonorous mould with an insistent, bassy, deep beat and a deadpan vocal from Hugh CornwellIce has a quirky, keyboard riff in advance of UltravoxThe Human League or anyone else who started using them around 1980. It is a sort of post punk meets new romantic melody and, for the time, was quite innovative. 

Baroque Bordello has an extended instrumental intro before another beguiling vocal pre-empts Echo & The Bunnymen. It has a great bass line too.

 

Nuclear Device has some punky aspects to it, in its vocal and background riffs. It has another Kraftwerk-inspired keyboard solo in the middle. It is apparently about a right-wing Australian politician called Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who, perhaps, shamefully, I had never heard of. 

Shah Shah A Go Go is a contemporaneously relevant number about Iran, with another industrial, dense beat.

Don't Bring Harry is a most strange Velvet Underground-influenced number with a semi-spoken vocal from bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel. It is about the group's experimentations with heroin. 

Meninblack is similarly-inspired. You can tell, it is decidedly weird, with its deliberately-distorted, high-pitched "alien" vocals. 

Duchess was the album's only really poppy number, and it is a great one too, with a catchy refrain and killer organ riff. 

Genetix has an almost electric folk guitar riff and an oddly infectious groove to it.

This is definitely one of The Stranglers' best albums - it is quite ground-breaking, inventive and worthy of several listens.


 

(The Gospel According To) Themeninblack (1981)


Waltzinblack/Just Like Nothing On Earth/Second Coming/Waiting For the Meninblack/Turn The Centuries, Turn/Two Sunspots/Four Horsemen/Thrown Away/Manna Machine/Hallow To Our Men    

This, according to Hugh Cornwell, was the height of The Stranglers' creative output, Jean-Jacques Burnel feels similarly positive about it. The public at the time did not, expecting some tub-thumping "punk" from a band who had long left that behind. This was the band's drug-induced album (heroin), it had to be said, but it is full of quirky oddities, and a myriad of rhythms that were very ahead of their time, both from drums and keyboards. Few of its songs tend to appear on any "Best Of The Stranglers" compilations, but it is definitely worthy of attention. I wouldn't say it was their best work, though, but then, I didn't write or perform it and they did.
                     
Waltzinblack is an atmospheric instrumental, with an (unsurprising) waltz beat and great bass line. Just Like Nothing On Earth has a big, thumping bassy beat and a weird, unnerving vocal from Hugh Cornwell, together with all sorts of electronic noises thrown in there. There are hints of Talking Heads in there somewhere, for me. It is almost techno in places, ahead of its time too. 

Second Coming has a very post-punk/early new romantic backing to it, and another sonorous, brooding vocal. Once again, there is an infectious, rubbery bass sound.

 

Waiting For The Meninblack is a menacing, dark, dense piece of industrial strength post-punk/electronica paranoid intensity. Yes none of these tracks are catchy or remotely commercial, but they are intriguing. Hugh Cornwell's vocal is very much of the haughty tone that would be adopted by many vocalists over he subsequent few years. Turn The Centuries, Turn is a chugging, but evocative instrumental.

Two Sunspots is a lively song that blends a punk pace with hints of early new romantic/electronica about it. Paul Weller was surely influenced by this on parts of his 2010 Wake Up The Nation album. I am thinking particularly of Fast Car/Slow Traffic

Four Horsemen is another keyboard-driven piece of experimental early eighties music. This stuff really isn't like anything done by anybody else at the time. Thrown Away is once more powered by electric rhythms and a deep, haunting vocal.

Manna Machine is an ambient piece with a spoken vocal. The album ends with probably its most catchy piece, the lengthy, quasi-religious Hallow To Our Men. Overall, this is an oddity of an album, and certainly those that bookend it, The Raven and La Folie are more complete, better albums but this is more than just a strange creation. Despite its drug-addled foundations, it is an important cornerstone in the group's development and shouldn't be overlooked.


 

La Folie (1981)


Non Stop/Everybody Loves You When You're Dead/Tramp/Let Me Introduce You To The Family/Ain't Nothin' To It/The Man They Love To Hate/Pin Up/It Only Takes Two To Tango/Golden Brown/How To Find True Love And Happiness In The Present Day/La Folie      
     
Following on from three increasingly more experimental albums in Black And WhiteThe Raven and the slightly bizarre (The Gospel According To) The MeninblackThe Stranglers' star had been waning. The punk coat-tails that they had grabbed on to and become incredibly successful had waned itself, as had new wave. New romantic, post punk and electric synth-pop was on the rise. The band had, in their last album, pre-empted some of that stuff, but not that anyone noticed. Here, they decided to go back to a commercially-appealing new wave style of sound. More punchy and tight and certainly far more accessible than the previous offering. It also yielded their biggest chart hit.

It was also probably the last album they released while their music was "relevant", so to speak. By the time of their next album, in 1983, The Clash and The Jam were no more, The Sex Pistols were long gone. The Ramones carried on but as an affectionately-viewed nostalgia act. To be fair, The Stranglers had started to change their style back in 1978. This was a last attempt to look back at a genre that was only three years or so old.
            
Non Stop was apparently titled Non Stop Nun, but appeared as just Non Stop on the cover. It has a catchy organ and guitar riff back and sounds like a bit of a throwback to the band's first two "punk" albums, apart from Hugh Cornwell's less aggressive vocal. The same can be said of the pumping organ and drum beat of Everybody Loves You When You're DeadTramp is a lively number with hints of early Joe Jackson and The Police

Let Me Introduce You To The Family also has a big Police influence, for me. It sounds like one of those frantic Andy Summers songs.

Ain't Nothin' To It is a very 1977-78 style upbeat number, like The Stranglers as they hadn't really been heard since 1978. The Man They Love To Hate is also a fast-paced rocky number with a pounding drumbeat, funky organ breaks and a mysterious vocal. Again, I have to reiterate that these songs bring to mind some of The Police's album tracks so much. Something about the drum sound and the pace of them. 

Pin Up sees the old cynical view of femalekind return, slightly. It is all a bit polite, though, and is a bit like Kraftwerk's The Model, lyrically.

It Only Takes Two To Tango is possibly the album's worst track. Its vocal harmonies are clumsy, to say the least. It is not a great track, let's be honest.

 

Golden Brown was a strange one. It became a Radio Two staple. Very punk. Not. It was melodic, gentle and classically-influenced, nothing like anything they had done before. It brought them a new audience. It was also about drugs. Supposedly. I've never got that myself. Same goes for Mr. Tambourine Man. Either way, it definitely had something about it, along with an absolute killer grandiose-sounding keyboard riff. I remember at the time, even girls I knew who didn't like punk music at all liked this. That sort of annoyed me. They didn't buy Something Better Change or Peaches, did they?

How To Find True Love And Happiness In The Present Day is a Talking Heads-esque oddball, staccato groove. It is tracks like this that mean that this album is not just a return to the sound of fours years earlier (actually none of it is, really, just some hints of it are). 

The title track, La Folie, is a true Stranglers unique song - bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel grumbling away, sometimes a bit tunelessly, in French over a deep, sombre backing.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable, energetic album. It is not just tub-thumping, though The songs are quite clever and the vocal delivery much more understated than four years earlier. Good album.




BBC Live In Concert (1982)


Down In The Sewer/Just Like Nothing On Earth/Second Coming/Non Stop/The Man They Love To Hate/Who Wants The World/Golden Brown/How To Find True Love And Happiness In The Present Day/Duchess/Let Me Introduce You To The Family/Tramp/The Raven/Genetix

This is an excellent download only release of The Stranglers in concert in February 1982 for the BBC "In Concert" series. The sound quality is excellent and the se is an interesting one, including tracks from the quirky album (The Gospel According To) Themeninblack in Just Like Nothing On Earth (complete with high-pitched vocals - not sure how they did that) and the rousing Second Coming. There are also tracks from the group's latest album La Folie and from The Raven. There is no material from their two early "punk" albums, apart from the opener, Down In The Sewer. The band show themselves to be more than impressive instrumentalists throughout. Some of these songs are quite difficult to play. This is certainly no punk thrash.

So, it is very much one for those who are interested in hearing these lesser-known album tracks played live, as I do, as opposed to a "greatest hits live" outing.

A highly recommended live album of a band at the top of their game.


Feline (1983)


Midnight Summer Dream/It's A Small World/Ships That Pass In The Night/The European Female (In Celebration Of)/Let's Tango In Paris/Paradise/All Roads Lead To Rome/Blue Sister/Never Say Goodbye       

After several quirky, "post-punk" and experimental albums, and a brief return to new wave-ish sounds on its predecessor, La Folie, this unremarkable (for me) album had The Stranglers going full on electronic and European-influenced, with its programmed drums and synthesisers. The electric guitars are almost gone, replaced by primarily acoustic ones. You couldn't get much further away from those two initial, angry, punky albums that the band put out. This stuff, to me, does not even have the post punk appeal of the late seventies output. It is all rather dull, unprepossessing and, dare I say, pretentious. Also, what has happened to Hugh Cornwell's trademark sneery vocal?
                          
Midnight Summer Dream is an Ultravox-ish, keyboard and programmed drums piece of (sort of) electronica, with rather pretentious-sounding spoken vocals. A few listens, however, and I find myself liking it more and more, oddly. 

It's A Small World also has that very early/mid-eighties electronic beat to it, with the group again sounding like a new romantic group, particularly in the vocal styling. It has an addictive Spanish guitar backing, though. 

Ships That Pass In The Night is another in the Ultravox vein, dominated by keyboards swirls and sonorous new romantic-style vocals. 

The European Female (In Celebration Of) is a laid-back, atmospheric and gently melodic number with, unsurprisingly, European (mainly Teutonic) overtones. Another Krautrock-esque number is up next, the morose Let's Tango In Paris

Paradise has echoes of Tom Tom Club in its vocals and quirky rhythms.

 

All Roads Lead To Rome is appealing enough, I guess, but its synth lines are so Ultravox meets Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark it is untrue. It just doesn't sound like The Stranglers. That said, I quite like it! Similarly, Blue Sister has a strange appeal in its mysterious vocal and throbbing bass line. 

Never Say Goodbye also has an infectiousness about it but why Cornwell has to put on that affected new romantic voice is beyond me. To be fair, these last three tracks have been intriguing and beg further listens.

Overall, however, this album just doesn't really do it for me. Yes I can see that it has hidden depths, and I agree that it needs several listens to absorb it into one's bloodstream, and I also have no problem with The Stranglers attempting to diversify, stylistically. Personally, I just don't think they achieve it here and the album has a somewhat cold, detached, unengaged feel about it. Maybe that is the wintry, Kraftwerk-esque effect they were going for, so who am I to argue? Some people probably consider this one of their best works. After a few listens, I warmed to it, so maybe that is what is needed.


 

Aural Sculpture (1984)


Ice Queen/Skin Deep/Let Me Down Easy/No Mercy/North Winds Blowing/Uptown/Punch And Judy/Spain/Laughing/Souls/Mad Hatter/Here And There    
The Stranglers had progressed from punk, to post punk, to dense electronica to finally reach some peace of mind with this sensitive (yes, really), often reflective and lyrically philosophical album. Musically is it both laid-back but also quite infectiously poppy. Maybe these overgrown punks had grown up at last. This is a very considered, adult album, unrecognisable as being from the band that gave us Peaches and Hanging Around. It is almost like a different band. The Spanish guitar remains from the previous album, but is now joined by a three piece horn section and the welcome return of some lead guitar and "proper" drums, as opposed to programmed ones.
                                       
Ice Queen is a sensual but punchy groover of a track, nothing much like anything the group had previously done, with big horn sections on the backing. 

Skin Deep is a beguiling and melodic number with an excellent, tuneful and mature vocal from Hugh Cornwell and some OMD-style drums. 

Let Me Down Easy is a delightful number, difficult to describe, almost sixties-influenced in places and soulful too. All delivered with a catchy, poppy beat. No Mercy is another entrancing song, new wave-ish and commercial in aspect.


Both the melodic North Winds Blowing and the quirky Uptown are thoroughly appealing tracks too. The latter is probably the closest to a being a recognisable Stranglers track. 

Punch And Judy is a riffy slice of piano and horns-driven Elvis Costello-style new wave fare. It's a great track. Lovely bass line underpinning it. It almost sounds a bit Northern Soul-ish with its In Crowd horn riff. Check out that bass and rhythm on the captivating Spain. Are you sure this is The Stranglers? It comes complete with female Spanish spoken vocal parts too.

Laughing is a tranquil, soulful song that could be The Style CouncilSouls is slightly Doors-esque but also featuring a poppy, new romantic sound. 

Mad Hatter has the band going all jazzy with a "doo-wop" vocal backing. All very incomprehensible as a Stranglers track but none the worse for it. Fair play to them for experimenting with totally different material. 

Here And There is great, with a new romantic-style haughty vocal and a punchy drum beat. Its backing is a bit like Culture Club meets Haircut 100 - yes, I know. Seriously, there is not a bad track on this truly excellent album. There is a fair case for this being The Stranglers' best offering.

 

Dreamtime (1986)


Always The Sun/Dreamtime/Was It You?/You'll Always Reap What You Sow/Ghost Train/Nice In Nice/Big In America/Shakin' Like A Leaf/Mayan Skies/Too Precious   
By 1986, The Stranglers' punk and post-punk days were long gone. Their previous album, the most impressive Aural Sculpture, from 1984, had seen them become almost a completely different band from anything that had been before. This little-mentioned album continues in the same vein - keyboard and drums-driven tuneful rock/pop but lyrically sometimes cynical material. While it was released in the middle of the eighties it was not blighted by synthesisers in the way that a lot of music from this period was. Dave Greenfield's keyboards were used as effectively as they always had been.

It is actually a pretty good album but it has been summarily dismissed over the years with cliché-ridden statements about its being a sad postscript from a once-great band and the like from those who expect every Stranglers album to sound like Rattus Norvegicus. This is a shame because there are hidden depths to this album and it stands up to most of 1986's other material, let's be honest.

                               
Always The Sun is, for me, one of The Stranglers' best ever singles - a catchy, atmospheric mix of New Romantic keyboards and eighties-style vocals that displays a grandiose pop sensibility that never left them. 

Dreamtime is another appealing mid-pace number, with a very mid-eighties ambience to it, while Was It You? has Hugh Cornwell sounding just like eighties-era Joey Ramone, but backed by some brass riffs. It has a few punky throwbacks about it.

You'll Always Reap What You Sow has some rock 'n' roll-style guitar parts, some European keyboards and a pounding, deep drum beat. It has a dignified sort of grace to it and Cornwell's vocal carries considerable pathos. 

Ghost Train is an upbeat but vaguely post-punky number that has considerable appeal. Cornwell's vocal is delivered in that semi-spoken, slightly menacing way.

Nice In Nice has a riffy intro and a vague Stonesy feel to it. I'm thinking of Stupid Girl. The vocal is Doors-esque too. Big In America has a feel of Lou Reed to it. It is another lively and infectious song, though, featuring some excellent saxophone. 

Shakin' Like A Leaf is one of those typical Doors-influenced, keyboard-driven Stranglers numbers, this time with a bit of brass jazz backing as well. Mayan Skies has an air of The Human League in its melody, keyboard backing and vocals. Again, the brass is used nicely. 

Too Precious is gently melodic and subtle in its instrumentation. A lovely bass line prevails throughout.

This album should not be dismissed out of hand. Personally, I much prefer it to Feline and, actually,  there are far more subtleties lurking beneath the surface here than on the punk albums.


 

10 (1990)


Sweet Smell Of Success/Someone Like You/96 Tears/In This Place/Let's Celebrate/Man Of The Earth/Too Many Teardrops/Where I Live/Out Of My Mind/Never To Look Back      

This was the last Stranglers album to feature Hugh Cornwell, making it the last of ten adventurous, often ground-breaking albums dating back to that seismic first one way back in 1977. Despite later albums with different personnel, this was the last Stranglers album for many people. It has received a lot of critical opprobrium, but I find it quite appealing. Granted, it is pretty different from most of the previous material, but it is vibrant and lively. It is, like many of their offerings, a challenging piece of work, but so were all their albums. I prefer to think of it as an enjoyable swansong from a group who were never one of my absolute favourites but were one who were always worthy of attention.
                       
Sweet Smell Of Success is totally unrecognisable as the Stranglers, being a percussion-driven, funky groover which finds the group sounding like The Style Council. Actually, I like it. It is good to hear them diversifying. It features an excellent jazzy piano and saxophone too. 

Someone Like You has some sixties-sounding organ an a real Velvet Underground circa 1970 sound, particularly on the Lou Reed-esque vocals. 

96 Tears is great - with lots of early Stranglers organ driving the song along and a catchy refrain. Again, it is very late sixties in its sound. Almost psychedelic pop in places. This is not surprising as it is a cover of a ? & The Mysterians song from 1964. Aretha Franklin also covered it, unusually. 

In This Place is a sonorous number reminiscent of the band's early eighties sombre post punk material. It has a camped-up haughty vocal. the track is, I have to say, a bit of an acquired taste, but lots of their output was.


Let's Celebrate is a big, brassy number almost like Dexy's Midnight Runners meets second album era The Specials. Again, it has a catchy appeal. 

Man Of The Earth has a post punk/new wave vibe to it with a Brit Pop sounding vocal and melody, a few years too early. Maybe The Stranglers were ahead of their time again. 

Too Many Teardrops once again has a very madcap, sixties organ sound mixed with some eighties-style vocals. They seemed to be trying to achieve a Stax-influenced soul feel on numbers like this, like Dexy's or Get Happy!! era Elvis Costello.

Where I Live is a quirky number, with Cornwell again sounding like Kevin Rowland and Dave Greenfield's organ swirling all over the place. It is like a piece of sixties electric pop given a punchy late eighties makeover. 

Out Of My Mind also sounds a lot like Elvis Costello & The Attractions from around the Imperial Bedroom and Blood And Chocolate periods. It has a frantic organ and drum sound, plus lots of feedback guitar, a bit like on Costello's A Man Out Of Time

Never To Look Back is a strangely catchy but sort of electronic meets new romantic track. So, that was The Stranglers. Thirteen years on from those sneering, snarling days of making out they were punks. It ended with a pleasant but unthreatening offering. It had been a long time since those early days, straddling several genres, but, as I said, their albums were always interesting ones.

PS - the latest release comes with several previously unreleased bonus tracks, all of which are good ones and wouldn't have been out of place on the album.


 

2 comments:

  1. Two of the best records from the 80s were Skin Deep and No Mercy that were on that album aural sculpture. I love those two and I always put them on an 80s playlist when I make one

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  2. I preferred The Stranglers when they stopped pretending to be punks. As you say, there's some good stuff around on their eighties/nineties albums.

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