Tuesday, 2 April 2019

The Stranglers - (The Gospel According To) Themeninblack (1981)


Released February 1981

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.


1. Waltzinblack
2. Just Like Nothing On Earth
3. Second Coming
4. Waiting For the Meninblack
5. Turn The Centuries, Turn
6. Two Sunspots
7. Four Horsemen
8. Thrown Away
9. Manna Machine
10. Hallow To Our Men                            

"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.


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