This Thursday, The Stranglers’ Definitive Tour kicks off with a date at our very own Dublin’s Olympia. The following day, the ever-wonderful Rhino Records will reissue the band’s first seven albums as deluxe editions laden with bonus tracks.
This is a post I’ve been promising myself I’d write since the band announced the tour last September. I’ve been composing it in my head on and off since then, trying to figure out how to articulate just why I love them so much. I reckon the best way is to do it under a few headings:
- The Music
The Stranglers’ first two albums, both released in 1977, had as their calling cards Jean-Jacques Burnel’s growling bass (the sound achieved thanks to a busted speaker cabinet), co-lead vocalist Hugh Cornwell’s snarling vocal delivery and scratchy guitaring, Dave Greenfield unwittingly conjuring up the spirit of Ray Manzarek on keyboards, and practically-a-pensioner 35-year-old Jet Black bashing seven shades of shit out of his drumkit. But Christ Almighty, what a glorious racket they made.
1978’s Black And White was Post-Punk, ’79’s The Raven solidified their reputation as supreme melodists, while ’81’s The Gospel According To The Meninblack was a concept album concerning the very thing Will Smith made three ‘gas’ movies about in later years. The band experimented with various recording techniques in the studio, such as a primitive attempt at looping, and steering away from what you might call verse-chorus-verse-type songs. There wasn’t much on it that the postman could whistle, partly due to the fact that The Stranglers were off their mickeys on heroin.
Apparently, heroin was also the subject of their massive hit, 1982’s ‘Golden Brown’, which made Number 2 in the UK Singles charts, but when asked what the track was actually about, the band provided various answers, such as ‘a girl’, and ‘a digestive biscuit’. ‘Golden Brown”s parent album La Folie was a return to more regular song structures, but ever the contrarians, The Stranglers followed up this massive hit single with the album’s title track, a song about a student who loved his girlfriend so much that he killed her and ate her. Oh yeah, it was sung in French, too. It didn’t make Number 2 in the UK singles charts.
Moving to CBS Records for 1983’s Feline album, the band’s sound softened somewhat. Burnel’s bass didn’t growl so much as purr on this new record, and Jet’s drumming was less frantic. The Stranglers’ next few albums, Aural Sculpture, Dreamtime and 10 are very much of their time production-wise, but the quality of the songwriting is undeniable. To whit, ‘Skin Deep’:
To whit once more, ‘Always The Sun’:
Hugh Cornwell departed the band following their 1990 tour, and was replaced the following year by a chap named Paul Roberts on vocals, and long-time friend of the band John Ellis on guitar. The Stranglers recorded five more albums with Roberts on vocals, which, while patchy, all included some top quality tracks.
Ellis was replaced in 2000 by Sunderland lad Baz Warne, the arrival of whom really seemed to galvanise the band once more. He immediately struck up a bromance with JJ Burnel, and the two would write together. Warne’s first album with The Stranglers, 2004’s Norfolk Coast, saw it’s lead single ‘Big Thing Coming’ return the band to the Top 40 UK Singles Chart for the first time in years:
By 2006, Paul Roberts had left the band. Details are sketchy regarding his departure – he maintains he was shut out of the writing process, while the band say that he wasn’t pulling his weight. At this point, Baz Warne took over vocals, and the band were back as a four-piece. JJ began to sing his lead vocals live again too. Apart from anything else, it just looked right. Baz was born to be a Strangler. To date, he has recorded two albums as vocalist with the band – 2006’s Suite XVI, and 2012’s Giants
Given that I got into the band the year after Hugh Cornwell’s departure, I never saw the original line-up perform live. However, I’ve seen enough footage and read enough articles to know that in their early years, there was a real sense of danger surrounding a Stranglers live gig. The band simply did not give a fuck, such as that time when they walked out of a gig halfway through – a gig that was being filmed for BBC. Their reason? Well, playing at Guildford University, the band were incensed to learn that contrary to an agreement, NONE of the tickets were made available to locals. Instead, the university students were alloted the lot. Then this happened (skip to 2:42 if you wish, but the song’s ace):
They were banned from the BBC for two years after that stunt. Can you imagine a young band, with all their media training and ability to mumble through interviews, pulling a stunt like that these days? They’d be chastised by their label for sabotaging an opportunity at synergy or some such bollocks. The Stranglers were the definition of Punk. They possessed exactly zero fucks.
While they may not be as full of piss and vinegar these days, and while you can be 99% sure they’ll finish a gig, they’re still utterly phenomenal on stage:
3. Their Sense Of Humour
Just listen to this compilation of Hugh Cornwell addressing various crowds:
4. The Logo
As iconic as Iron Maiden’s, The Beatles’, and Metallica’s. Only cooler. A few years back, Supermodel Kate Moss was spotted out and about wearing a Stranglers T-Shirt, but we don’t think she knows all the words to ‘Peasant In The Big Shitty’
5. They Never Broke Up
Yeh, Hugh Cornwell left in 1990, and some Stranglers fans still wish for a reunion (never gonna happen, by the way). The Stranglers never disbanded, never did any nonsense ‘farewell’ tours only to reverse such a decision 6 months later, and have been around in one form or another for the past 44 years. That takes commitment, dignity, and passion.
6. The Fans
Even through the creatively-fallow years, The Stranglers have always had an audience. Their fans are passionate, committed, and friendly to one another, organising meet-ups in most every town the band play on each tour. There are a number of fan forums and Facebook groups, but in my opinion, the best one is here
There are a hundred other reasons why I love this band so much, but to list them all would result in a book, not a blog article. So let’s let the music do the talking – If you’re new to The Stranglers, or just want to pump yourself up before a gig, why not check out our specially-created Spotify playlist encompassing all eras of the band:
RockYouLike will be in attendance at the Olympia Theatre on Thursday night, and should you require, will be happy to talk nonsense all night about this most essential of bands. See you there.
The brilliant live shot at the top of this page was taken by Warren Meadows