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The Stranglers

  • Rattus Norvegicus ,
  • No More Heroes ,
  • Black And White,
  • The Raven,
  • Meninblack,
  • La Folie,
  • Feline,
  • Aural Sculpture,

  • Album Reviews |

    The Stranglers

    rattus norvegicus the raven black and white no more heroes la folie

    Rattus Norvegicus 9 ( 1977 )
    Sometimes / Goodbye Toulouse / London Lady / Princess Of The Streets / Hanging Around / Peaches / Get A Grip On Yourself / Ugly / Down In The Sewer

    They'd been around and had been ignored by all and sundry since 1974. Turned down by more record labels than most thought existed. Aggression towards the band at gigs, then being supporting band with punk acts such as Patti Smith and The Ramones sharpened up the bands approach. 300 gigs in 1976 would have been crucial and come 1977, The Stranglers hit number four with their debut LP. A hard working band? I would have thought so. Yet, The Sex Pistols and The Clash had polarised the music press and music fans in the UK. The Stranglers couldn't easily be placed in either camp. The 'sexist' nature of the lyrical content on 'Rattus Norvegicus' ( very tame these days compared to rap music ) had a music press up in arms, eager to show their support to both the women's lib movement and the socialist worker party. Not wanting to become politically alligned, The Stranglers were clearly deemed as being against such movements. Did they play on this to wind people up? Of course they did. If somebody hits out at you and you care passionately about the worth of what you're doing, you'll hit back in whatever way you can.

    Social observation and statements of intent comes into play as a means of opening the album up with the following someday i'm gonna smack your face. With journalists like Tony Parsons, The Stranglers did just that. Funnily enough Tony Parsons is now a respected, middle class journalist. The Stranglers remain marginalised. You could say one group has been clever and the other hasn't, or you could say one group stuck to their ideals and the other didn't. 'Princess Of The Streets', 'London Lady' and 'Peaches' all make situations come vividly into play, which is better than ignoring them. As I say, pretty tame stuff these days, but I can understand an apparently responsibly publication ( that would also exploit Debbie Harry pictures to sell papers ) such as NME needing to take a stance. They had to be against The Stranglers or otherwise apparently embrace sexism. No choice and nobody had the intelligence either in the audience/readership or the paper to take anything other than these types of diametrically opposing, tribal-like stances. Well, it was 1977 and it was punk-rock. The Sixities liberation didn't liberate people until much later. Much later, it was played out throughout the 70's. For all their rights or wrongs, I would say the world back then needed a band like The Stranglers who had content behind their postering.

    When listened to these days, 'Hanging Around', 'Get A Grip' and 'Peaches' has to be viewed as one of the strongest sequences of any of the punk albums of the era. The songs musically far outstrip what The Clash or The Sex Pistols were doing at the time and remain extremely interesting and listenable to this day. The doorsy keyboards ( although not really ) and the lead-bass together with solid drums created a distinctive sound for the group without needing a lead-guitar hero even present, although of course, Hugh played guitar and also sang. So did J J Burnel, Bass and vocals. Dave played his keys and Jet Black ( ace name ) did the drums. J J Burnel is now 65 odd, so you can already work out these guys were already slightly older than your average punk band. More accurately you could align them with pub-rock bands of the era, yet punk appeared and the rest is history. It's done. So, 'Hanging Around' and 'Get A Grip' and two terrific punk songs, 'Peaches' is hilarious and so accurately describes 90s male that any thoughts of it being actually sexist now seem hilariously misplaced, despite the lyrical content. Of the supporting cast, the seven minute long 'Down In The Sewer' is ambitious and 'Goodbye Toulouse' sports a kind of romantiscim vocally. It's a brilliant 37 minute long album, that's it really. Of everything else, you'll make up your own minds.

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    From Baztech baz@edin77.freeserve.co.uk
    Nice review adrian! The Stranglers are so under-rated, esp during this era. This debut, ironically is up there with thier best albums. Theres not a weak song on this album. Yes all the singles are spot on. Everyone knows "Peaches". "Down In The Sewer" has one of the best riffs ever, seriously, i think a lot of people would regonise it as well, so download people! "London Lady" is a fave of mine, great lyrics and vocal parts "plastics real when your so sick" i mean - genius! This is an album that never dips in quality 10/10.
    From Peter peter.beswick@sungard.com
    Great to have a Stranglers Album review on at last. Suite XVI their last CD is up there as one of their top 5 and well worth a review. P.S - Your review states that JJ is now 65. Not sure he is going to like that, as I'm sure you really meant Jet Black. lets hope you don't bump in to him soon hey ;0) Thanks again. Great site
    From Philthy Phil philthyphil@ntlworld.com
    I first heard this album, aged 15, in France, on a school exchange trip and was blown away. I never knew that music like this EXISTED! Of course, I'm older now, and I can see where their influences came from, but at the time it was so much of nothing I had ever heard before that I bought the album with my paper-round money as soon as I got back to Blighty and started wearing safety pins behind the lapel of my school blazer (collar up on the way to school - what a rebel I was!!) It is still a favourite of mine (how many albums that you bought 30 years ago still sound as fresh?) Thanks for the 9 Adrian, you are spot on.

    top of page No More Heroes ( 1977 )
    I Feel Like a Wog / Bitching / Dead Ringer / Dagenham Dave / Bring on the Nubiles / Something Better Change / No More Heroes / Peasent in the Big Shitty / Burning Up Time / English Towns / School Mam

    Mere months after their debut, The Stranglers continue down their politically incorrect path via songs concerning social dislocation, virgin girls, the poor, the government and just about everybody else. Several of the tunes were compositions left off 'Rattus' coupled with newer material designed to keep the momentum going following the success of their debut. The two big songs this time around are the title track and the stormingly good 'Something Better Change'. The title track starts off with a burst of guitar before the main, classic organ riff comes in. It's a riff that goes round and round in circles whilst the lyrics quote a variety of different people and political figures. 'Something Better Change' has a punchy organ riff which the guitar matches, the vocals are aggressive yet melodic and this is a superbly constructed slice of punk/rock. I particular like the instrumental break in the middle and the 'change, change, change' chant to close. It's great fun to sing-a-long with this tune. Less fun to sing-a-long with the albums opening track, 'I Feel Like A Wog', a song deliberately designed to provoke, of course. Still, the song has a crunchy bass riff and yet more distinctive and disarming keyboard parts. The first three tunes are all sung by different singers by the way, fact fans. 'Bitching' is rather undistinguished and even as early as this, the 2nd song on the album, we're worrying it's not as good as the debut. 'Dead Ringer' threatens to turn into 'Peaches', clearly musically cut from the same cloth yet comes across as b-side material compared to likes of 'Peaches' from the debut.

    I enjoy listening to 'Dagenham Dave', I like listening to the funky 'Bring On The Nubiles' although i'm less keen on 'Peasant In The Big Shitty', which seems to be one 'insult' too far. We move forward into a solid sequence to close the album, culminating with the seven minute long 'School Mam' which brings the running time up from a measly thirty one minutes to a respectable thirty eight minutes, although surely doesn't compare with 'Down In The Sewer' in the closing an album stakes. Disappointing? Yeah, there is a sense of disappointment surrounding 'No More Heroes'. Take away the two main tunes and there's not a huge amount left, but overall we can call this LP consolidation, nothing too much to worry about whilst hoping for a bit more next time around.

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    From Bez peter.beswick@sungard.com
    7 1/2! You have got to be joking Adrian! This is a classic. Every song is melodic and full of great moments how about how the music changes in "Deganham Dave" when the line "Late night a street in the west of the city" kicks in. School Mam for me is almost a match on Down In The Sewer, the lyrics completely wrong and yet its great "teachers doing fine as far as I CAN SEE". The 2 Dave Greenfield vocal-led songs "Dead Ringer" and "Peasent in The Big Shitty" are two of my favorite songs on this album. "Burning Up Time" has class guitar bits and the anthem "No More Heroes" is as gd as ever. Another 9-10/10 me thinks :D.

    top of page Black And White 8 ( 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

    The first two albums had songs with roots pre-76. 'Black And White' was the first time The Stranglers had to come up with an entire new set of songs from scratch. The album itself is vaguely thematic, split as it is into loosely themed 'white' and 'black' sides. The first is the relatively straightforward and familiar 'White' side, picking up on the melodic, popular side of the group. Side B is the more experimental side of the album. Well, apparently all this is so. Initial buyers of the album were also lucky enough to receive a free 7" cover version of Bacharach and David's 'Walk On By'. More than any song present on the 'actual' album, The Stranglers cover of 'Walk On By' firmly indicated that they had enough about them to survive the punk fall-out stylistically. Also, gone are the politically incorrect statements of the first two albums, the overall effect of which is to lend 'Black And White' a quite serious overtone that has led some fans to complain it's a rather depressing listen. Certainly this isn't true from my point of view, at least listening to the first side ( the first six songs ) all of which nod towards the bands original sound whilst showcasing superb bass and keyboards, in particular. Stop start rhythms and distinctive crunching bass sent 'Nice 'n' Sleazy' into the UK top twenty upon release as a single. 'Tank' sounds like it could have fitted quite comfortably on either of the bands previous two albums and the entire first side is a rush of energy and nerves.

    Side two opens with 'Curfew', a three minute song that sounds like it's seven minutes long, although this is actually a good thing this time out. A strange time signature and lots going on, it reminds me of Wire circa 'Chairs Missing'. The second side of the album could be said to be fairly progressive, the experiments never let down by the musicianship, even if not all of these experiments actually succeed. 'Do You Wanna' is rather weak lyrically, for example, yet the music see-saws through irregular, angular rhythms vagely resembling early music by The Fall. The final two songs are strange, groove based rhythms with no obvious melodies, yet lots of minor melodies decorate the songs. They are both addictive listening for me, there's a lot going on musically. Indeed, the entire album is more of a musical than lyrical experience. Perhaps it's this aspect that put off some fans of the groups earlier material, yet who was taking Stranglers lyrics seriously anyway? Answers on a postcard please, marked 'Stranglers Black And White Album Isn't The Worst Of The First Three Albums They Made'. Thank you.

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    From Bez peter.beswick@sungard.com
    Just a quick thanks for another honest Stranglers review, as a long time fan you don't get many of those. Just want to say again that if you like the first 3 CD's then the 4th (The Raven) and their 15th CD ( Norfolk Coast ) are as good as anything they have ever produced. Still great live and touring in a venue near you soon ;0)

    top of page The Raven 9 ( 1979 )
    Longships / The Raven / Dead Loss Angeles / Ice / Baroque Bordello / Nuclear Device / Shah Shah a Go Go / Don't Bring Harry / Duchess / Meninblack / Genetix

    Different times. The Stranglers perhaps these days would have been known more for their music than any apparent controversy. Stories of Jean Jacques Burnel flashing his bum in an Oslo hotel brought The Police in. Sting wasn't amused..... No, but seriously, what would happen if a band today did the same thing? Nothing, unless it was a member of Cliff Richards band, perhaps. Stories of The Stranglers causing uproar in Brisbane, holding the two years out of date locals in utter contempt. Then again, Brisbane did give birth to The Saints and they were a pretty wild bunch, so perhaps The Stranglers should have known better? Anyway, various times spent in police-cells didn't teach The Stranglers anything. Listening to music and the impending end of punk did teach them something and listening to 'The Raven' i'm tempted to believe they were listening to Wire. Wire were one of the first punk bands, if not the first, to utilise electronics in quite such a clever way. 'The Raven' for a band of apparently sexist thugs is a very clever musical album.

    The intro is near perfect. The instrumental 'Longships' melting into the luxurious depth of the title track and then to the double-tracked bass of the scathing 'Dead Loss Angeles'. Those pining for punk would continue to pine, this is a very different sounding Stranglers album - one with colder, digital keyboard sounds and a very claustrophobic feel. The famous rumbling of The Stranglers bass-lines is still present and the guitars and keyboards combine to present some very effective melody lines throughout the LP. Along with 'Dead Loss Angeles', 'Nuclear Device' most resembles the punk-stranglers of old, yet even this has plenty of interesting interweaving melodies to savour. I don't much care for 'Shah Shah a Go Go' which for my money gets a little repetitive. Yet, the anti-heroin tune 'Don't Bring Harry', the perfect pop of the clever 'Duchess' and the dark weirdness of 'Meninblack' more than make up for this. The closing five minute 'Genetix' is particularly strange with avant-garde little dissonant melodies all over the place, yet repeated listens even cause this to somewhat hypnotise a listener.

    All in all then, a terrific and brave album that proved The Stranglers were both an interesting proposition and an intelligent and distinctive proposition. The album reached number two, only denied the number one spot by a chart compiling error. A whole batch of sales of 'The Raven' accidentally went to count for The Police instead. Sting probably was amused....

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    top of page The Gospel According To The Meninblack ( 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

    By this stage, The Stranglers were blantantly so keen to confound expectations that they decided 'The Gospel According To The Men In Black' would be a concept album without a trace of their punk-roots. The public weren't quite ready it seems for a concept album about aliens and the sinister meninblack, so the album peaked only at UK number 8 and the two singles both failed to crack the top 40. Still, The Stranglers record label were happy enough to allow the band to take risks after the commercial success they had gained and the band themselves wanted to explore. Indeed, several members of The Strangers including singer Hugh Cornwell rates 'Meninblack' as their finest work ever. Strange fellow. Well, there's next to no guitar on the entire album, instead we have plenty of keyboards and synths, with the bass guitar largely pining everything together. Fanatics of 'Meninblack' will hail the record as innovative and having invented techno, the reality is that by 1981, plenty of obscure, instantly forgotten indie-acts were experimenting with synths. What was different about The Stranglers doing it was the fact they had an audience to lose. Which, they very nearly did lose, completely! Still, hats off to these fellows for trying something brave.

    The album itself begins with silly processed alien voices during the largely instrumental 'Waltzinblack'. 'Just Like Nothing On Earth' and particularly 'Second Coming' then returns us to more serious, melodic fare. Indeed, the latter track will now rank among my favourite Stranglers tunes - The Stranglers had a way with melody, you see. 'Waiting For The Meninblack' reminds me all the world of Wire when they'd also dropped the guitars in favour of synths. Truth be told, this isn't one of The Stranglers finest moments and I can understand certain fans reluctance to embrace this album. After a fairly pointless instrumental, we reach 'Two Sunspots', whose conceptual place on the album can be argued but this is far more traditional Stranglers fare and probably should have been released as a single instead of 'Just Like Nothing On Earth', which failed to reach any higher than an alarming number 82 on the UK singles charts. 'Thrown Away' fared better, yet still missed out on becoming a hit. Still, 'Thrown Away' is my favourite track here by a mile. A very memorable keyboard line, mellow/weird vocals, yet hooks aplenty that should have really been enough to chart. Oh, well. More weirdness abounds with the unlistenable 'Manna Machine' and then the seven minute 'Hallow To Your Men' witnesses The Stranglers doing their take on progressive rock. Wholly unsuccessful it was, too.

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    top of page 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 Hapiness in the Present Day / La Folie

    After the weird 'Meninblack' album The Stranglers were under pressure to record a more commercial record. 'La Folie' isn't quite that record - sure the songs are shorter and generally more straight-forward 'La Folie' really isn't forthcoming enough to be classified as listener friendly. Well, 'Golden Brown' was a huge, huge hit yet not enough to propel the album towards similarly huge sales. The lack of a supportive press was one reason, another was the fact 'La Folie' really has nothing at all in common with 'Golden Brown'. I mean, the title track was the follow-up single, an admittedly gorgeous piece yet at six minutes long and sung in French? Well, this was never going to achieve a place on the radio playlists of the day. The Stranglers were considered by the general public, those outside their core fanbase, as a singles band. 'La Folie' didn't breakthrough enough into the album charts to change that perception.

    In truth, 'Golden Brown' and 'La Folie' apart, this is merely an average to good album although one or two of the tracks do shine in a typically progressive Stranglers way. The first three tracks are brief, energetic, heavy on keyboards and bass and culminate with fan-favourite 'Tramp', a song that should have been a single after 'Golden Brown' if only to remind long-term fans that The Stranglers hadn't gone soft or sold-out at all, really. Some impressive playing here and certain keyboard lines that really do mark out The Stranglers as perhaps the only band to have taken progressive rock and mixed it with punk fully succesfully. 'Let Me Introduce You To The Family' could almost be a track by Progressive rock behemoths Yes circa 1979. Well, imagine if Steve Jones from The Sex Pistols had joined Yes, then imagine 'Let Me Introduce You To The Family', the album highlight on 'La Folie' as far as this listener is concerned. Well, it absolutely pumps and grooves and shines, especially when turned up as loud as possible.

    Two further highlights remain, resolutely old-school Stranglers moments, albeit with a certain improvement or tightness to the playing. 'Pin Up' is a catchy three minute punk-ish tune whilst 'It Only Takes Two To Tango' demonstrates The Stranglers way with experimentation yet this time, experimentation with a great tune to match, not something they always manage to do, it must be said. All in all though, I find 'La Folie' an endlessly interesting album with enough moments of class to recommend it, flaws and all.

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    top of page Feline ( 1983 )
    Midnight Summer Dream / It's a Small World / Ships That Pass in the Night / European Female (In Celebration Of) / Let's Tango in Paris / Paradise / All Roads Lead to Rome / Blue Sister / Never Say Goodbye

    This was the first Stranglers album for Epic Records and did well enough to peak at UK number four. After the hit 'Golden Brown' it probably wasn't what Epic were exactly hoping for from the band - a cold, icy, apparently melancholy selection of songs with barely a trace of any Stranglers trademarks - but what were Epic going to do? They'd promised The Stranglers full artistic freedom. So, we've got nine songs of New Wave synths, spanish acoustic guitar and programmed drums. J.J.Burnel's rumbling bass and Dave Greenfield's manic organ lines had gone, almost completely. This cold and austere Stranglers album did very well in European countries outside of the UK, helping the bands ability to generate money on the road rather than rely on record sales. A note for our American friends before I continue. Some editions over there have 'Golden Brown' stuck in the middle of the tracklisting. Needless to say, it doesn't belong on this album and has absolutely nothing in common with any of the tracks on this album.

    'Midnight Summer Dream' is a pretty weird opener, basically a slice of slightly cheesy european flavoured, keyboard led instrumental music over which we have spoken vocals in storytelling mode. Still, although these synth sounds are somewhat dated a couple of decades on, there's no denying the melodies the music presents. 'Blue Sister' is an example of one of the problems this album has, namely the vocals. Among sleek keyboard lines these distant and not exactly confident sounding vocals try a listeners patience and spoils an otherwise interesting tune. 'Ships That Pass In The Night' sports a classic Stranglers bass line on an album light on classic Stranglers bass lines. The vocals arrive around 90 seconds into the tune, don't really improve the song and you leave with the feeling they could have left this as an instrumental. 'Let's Tango In Paris' is quietly haunting and main single 'European Female' comes closest to having a tune the general public could easily grasp onto. I can't help but feel that 'Feline' is something of a missed opportunity for The Stranglers though. The moodiness and nice atmospherics aren't enough to disguise the paucity of really strong songs.

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    From Bez Bolton Lancs
    Adrian, as we will see from my previos comments, I'm a massive Stranglers fan, but I have to agree with your review. As ever you are spot on. Still enough great CD's/Tracks from the back catalogue for the band to be one of the best of the last 25 years. Thanks again Adrian great site.Peter

    top of page Aural Sculpture 8 ( 1984 )
    Ice Queen / Skin Deep / Let Me Down Easy / No Mercy / North Winds / Uptown / Punch & Judy / Spain / Laughing / Souls / Mad Hatter

    The 8th Stranglers album spawned three UK singles, 'Skin Deep' returning the band to 'Top of the Pops' when it peaked at number 15. The other singles pulled from the set were 'No Mercy' (No.37) and 'Let Me Down Easy' (No 48). The album itself reached number 14 and was produced by Laurie Latham, who was fresh from a massive success with Stranglers Epic label-mate, singer Paul Young. Whether it was Laurie's or the band's idea to also enlist a three-piece horn section is another matter, but live the Stranglers effectively became a seven-piece ensemble with the Trombone, Trumpet and Saxophone playing on Stranglers tunes old and new. Apart from the brass section, 'Aural Sculpture' is notable for The Stranglers pursuing a continuing path towards sensual, sincere and introspective pop/rock - any trace of their punk era gone altogether, by now. Hugh Cornwell had noticeably mellowed since giving up Heroin and whether this change in his personality led to a distance between himself and JJ Burnel during subsequent tours around Europe and the UK.

    The opening track is 'Ice Queen' which perfectly signposts the new sound of The Stranglers, or the evolution of their continuing sound, if you prefer. The bass lines rumble away but aren't prominent in the mix, the keyboard lines and programmed drums dominate proceedings but within a fairly mellow, melodically presented, overall sound mix. The keys are playing lots of small, simple little addictive melodies and then brass parts arrive two thirds of the way through attempting to add drama - and they do. 'Let Me Down Easy' is simple, melodic and contains good parts from JJ Burnell, quietly working in his own way after agreeing with the producer to become 'just another part' of the sound, however you can't help but still pick-up on many of his parts. One question, the Eighties question? Well, 'Punch & Judy' sounds either like Midnight Oil or INXS following 'Uptown' which especially sounds like either Midnight Oil or INXS. 'Uptown' also has the brass parts nodding towards Madness whilst Hugh's vocals are almost competing for attention within the mix.

    Switching to 'Side B' talking in old money, many commentators have complained that 'Side B' of 'Aural Sculpture' is far worse than 'Side A' but I would calmly disagree that there is any great disparity. For me, the second half of the LP shines during the sequence from 'Spain' to 'Souls' inclusive. By all accounts, these three songs are largely dominated writing wise by Hugh Cornwell, but it's clear with the keys/organ/bass that the other Stranglers are still vital to producing the end arrangement. I like the backing vocals during 'Spain' that contrast nicely with the more strident and/or playful lead vocals of Hugh. The spoken Spanish language parts add atmosphere and overall? Well, it's hard to describe why this track gets to me so much - maybe the stupendous Hammond organ little break in the middle does it for me? Answers on a postcard. 'Laughing' is mellow to barely there, a synth line floats through whilst the bass gently beats and a few programmed percussive parts decorate the top - Hugh gives a great mellow vocal full of feeling and with good lyrics that keep you interested amidst all the subtle tiny little melodies floating around. 'Souls' is the third and final of this 'Side B' winning sequence that 'Aural Sculpture' contains. Fading in then getting to hear an actual guitar as all the other sounds swirl gently around and the keys/synths - beautiful melodies.

    Beautiful melodies? I can't and shouldn't go without mentioning 'Skin Deep'. As strong as the early Stranglers catalogue is prior to the Epic label years, an all time 'Stranglers' best-of could for-go 'Aural Sculpture' altogether - you know, speaking of 'hits' and could have been hits. But, there's no ignoring 'Skin Deep' which if released a year or so earlier as the follow-up to 'Golden Brown' would likely have gone top ten, rather than top twenty. As far as pop music goes played by actual musicians, you can't get much better, or classier, than 'Skin Deep.

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    top of page this page last updated 20/09/15

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