INCREDIBLE NEW STRANGLERS ALBUM!

My Literary buddy Nasir has highlighted that i have a weakness for “CAPS LOCK” Capitals on this blog which to be fair was a rather unseemly habit which shall now be replaced by proper punctuation – wise advice! (Dyslexia!?) More reviews from me on his fab Horror blog and unique takes on life will soon appear in lights here soon…In the meantime I recently wrote a review of this charming humorous piece with a nostalgic twist. It also has a funny music story that delighted me! https://spiralstaircase.blog/2021/05/22/foam/

Which brings us in no way whatsoever to a comeback Album/latter career album that has totally put a spanner in the works! Though the aforementioned story is set in the same period of the early 80’s..the last time the STRANGLERS were so high in the UK Chart.

As for Spanner in the works, I mean in regard to albums or an artist matching or even in some ways surpassing early work from maybe decades earlier. It never happens. As a result Some time ago I wrote an article on here with regard to the lack of authentic comeback albums. Particularly ones with original members. Ultravox had a try with a decent result. Though critically panned. The Monkees did a brilliant album of songs by the likes of XTC’s Andy Partridge that was a delight of original music that sits beautifully by earlier work even if with different songwriters. Do bands like Hawkwind, Genesis or The Who count? Hawkwind seem an ever changing band in keeping with the original with BROCK as the original founder as central. Though JJ didnt start the STRANGLERS he was central. Do the bands mentioned count as not original line ups? If thats the case then the new STRANGLERS album is nothing more than a tribute album or new band “Spin off”. But this is far far from the case. In fact in complete contrast to the usual trend amongst artists- JJ and the late Dave Greenfield from the original line up may have Jettisoned the Stranglers to a new career with new evolving line ups – rather like the Floyd and Genesis. However here we can enjoy an album pretty much dominated you feel by JJ. In the past with his humorous poetic albums with Greenfield he has led the band (less so when Hugh was with them) but JJ has reached new heights on this album. “Water” for me is really up there with the original line ups hey day and JJ’s beautiful moving tribute “If you should see Dave…” certainly had me shedding a tear. I remember having an extraordinary dream about Greenfield vividly after his sad death last year. I could hear swirling Bach style Harpsichords and he was younger in black and i watched from behind as he walked through peaceful gardens green and lush He was at great peace (looking rather as he did during the RAVEN LP Era) and he was in a green leafy avenue of trees in a very serene creative place which might have been a churchyard or country garden…perhaps in Somerset which I know so well. It certainly was evocative. Was it a real psychic experience or simply the over active imagination of a man who grew up loving the Stranglers since a wee nipper? Whatever the reason I can say this album has produced some of the most sparkling new music from a band who had everything going against them not least losing original frontman Hugh.

I would say that “DARK MATTERS” Just beats “NORFOLK COAST”. and is as good as HC’s magnificent solo “MONSTER” Album or his “WI’FI” and “GUILTY” Albums. If not better. I would put it equal with MONSTER and despite the incredible NORFOLK COAST title track id have to say this is their best post Hugh work. DARK MATTERS and MONSTER are the best produced by any member of the band in my view now since 1986’s DREAMTIME now whereas before I felt MONSTER and NC were equal best since “10”. This album changes all that. That can be “THROWN AWAY”..(An original line up classic i recommend).

Certainly the top 3 position has now perhaps made BURNEL’s point that they were always a BAND. So much that HUGH might want to be seen as the man behind it all who never mentions his past bandmates or gets asked. In the same way the band pretty much ignore Hugh C and are not asked either which seems perverse when his era produced the heyday of the band. Personally i listen to both. Certainly most frontmen have success like WELLER (though he is a unique maverick with more ups and downs than most). Some like SYD BARRETT or PETER GABRIEL might leave a band they formed and the former have failure (only commercially in my view not creatively…he even painted well at the end) the GABRIEL success. JULIAN COPE (TEARDROP EXPLODES) also was a huge continuance of work done in his band with success -but what of BLAZE BAYLEY of IRON MAIDEN? Or those that have followed great lead singers whether ACDC or the BUNNYMEN but never fitted in? In a sense PAUL ROBERTS of the STRANGLERS MK2 line up was out of place but at least sang in a HUGH style at times. BAZ WARNE and JJ now do a great job on vocals, though I know any fans reading might hate me for saying it but he has a slight nod to CORNWELL in style but he is wonderful in his own right.

When it comes to new singers usually it can go drastically wrong or a new personality perhaps based on an old one can emerge – without (if not the original line up) losing the signature sounds of that member. Of course with UB40 you have a similar strange Rock and Roll feud. With JEAN JACQUES BURNEL and HUGH CORNWELL (who formed the band- HC that is) it seems as likely that the two might go for a pint as a JAM Reunion or RICK playing bongos on the next STYLE COUNCIL TOUR!

Usually its the backing musicians that dont get the credit of the Jim Morrison’s of this world. The JAM for example and to a certain extend not just Foxton and Buckler but Mick Talbot – who all contributed. However when you have a RAY DAVIES, or a MORRISSEY you can see that it can go either way- a success going alone and sometimes not, as if the ego has torn at the base of whatever made a great collective unit in the first place. It would have been fantastic to see the STONES make a jazz or Reggae or folk stripped down album to surprise but it never did. In a sense this (DARK MATTERS) is the consistent set the STONES never managed in later times. In the case of most bands its very rare to equal an original line ups hey day and perhaps for the first time unlike the ROLLING STONES (sad to see Watts go recently, he seemed an impossibility- a modest STONE!), but the STRANGLERS may have done it!

The cover is a classic up the with the RAVEN – actually I spotted a number plate over here in Cali called “RAVENMIB” on the day i heard the new LP had gone in at number 3! (or is it 4? its high anyway!) I shall never know who that Stranglers fan driver was or perhaps in excitement I was seeing things and it had more to do with the MIB Movie…

Back to the cover…EASTER ISLAND is depicted and perhaps is a slight reference to the 1981 seminal work “GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE MEN IN BLACK”. One of the best songs with an alien agenda conspiracy edge that might have fitted on that 81 classic is “THE LAST MEN ON THE MOON” with its HG Wells style evocative title. Within which are references to the Ancients and ALIEN life which is often dwelled upon on these pages (both aliens and the men in black…the band that is). The Cover on the new album is perhaps another reference to the post apocalyptic Covid world (which tragically took Dave Greenfield) and the current Alien life and UFO revelations by the American Government. I remember being told by a fan of the STRANGLERS -that when it came to HUGH that to not mention him if i met the band – particularly JJ – and that if I preferred the HUGH CORNWELL era of the band he might hit me! I didnt mention that when I got CORNWELL’s signature on an old Album and briefly met the original Man in Black. As for the rift so the story goes – the original front man left to be an actor, the band asked him back, he declined and then many years on front man Hugh asked them to rejoin and got a no…

Whatever the reasons and motivations- whether the hell of Lockdowns and Dave’s passing as a result of covid – or the fact that rather like the track “WATER”. which opens the album magnificently. That it is rather like water to a dying man in the desert in terms of the musical delights hidden on this LP. The Harpsichord Bach style crescendo sounds like something from a classic JOHN BARRY soundtrack. The three tracks that dont feature D GREENFIELD are charming little mournful Laments with pieces like “AND IF YOU SHOULD SEE DAVE…”, “THE LINES” (an hilarious autobiographical piece perhaps about each reason for each aged line) and “DOWN”. which are all moving poetic brief BURNEL songs up their with his finest work. The Bells on the tribute song to the late keyboard wizard are also a wonderful little touch and are enchanting, evocative and different and they add to the sad subject. As does the very beautiful line “This is where your solo would go”. On either side of this lovely song which has “Standard” written all over it are more examples on of his Magical Keyboard mastery. First on “THIS SONG” and then “IF SOMETHINGS GONNA KILL ME” . Wonderful! One does wonder if the intro to the latter with its swirling soundscapes of keyboard mastery was recorded since his death. Once DAVE’s beautiful keys begin it becomes an instant classic with a dreamy FELINE feel. I feel I want to say this is a fitting epitaph to Dave’s memory but thats a bit cliched but it is delightfully subversive in a joyous sense whilst also dynamic in the way they were so long ago…Subversive and progressive…yet Pop music in the way “M ” meant it. The Female singers on “WHITE STALLION ” are quirky and dynamic in a wonderfully inventive way. Could it be CELIA AND THE MUTATIONS from 1978? It certainly isnt ELASTICA! THIS SONG is Intellectual, intelligent headbanger music and the lead single…I love it but its my least favorite song. This speaks volumes of the high standards of this set of songs. The lyrics on “LAST MAN ON THE MOON” turns ones mind to current activities by the likes of RICHARD BRANSON and ELON MUSK or HG WELLS…

The aforementioned “WATER” really is up their with early work and symbolizes perhaps a new mood and optimism. It is poetic and heralds not just an incredible vintage opener stomper (rather as on MONSTER the track “PURE EVEL” was from HUGH and also as does NO MORE HEROES from day one live for the band) it brings new life to the band. It heralds a bringing of new life and to those who are desperate and starving and in a sense as a musical audience and culturally I find it as pleasing to the ears as water to a dying man! Like food to a starving man…at last great music for the masses! Much as I love some ABBA i cant get anything like as enthused as I am over DM. it would be seminal template except its an established act. But its far from an artistic retread. Its dynamic and fresh in a similar way to the recent WHO album but way more consistent and a stronger more original set thats vintage and yet of the original days of STRANGLERS legendary yore…Think 1977 – 1986 heyday and this isnt far off. I wonder if there any offcuts off of DARK MATTERS as good as TOWNSEND’s “THIS GUN WILL MISFIRE”? I bet some even more wonderful songs will emerge. As it is its a faultless set of songs. My fave other than WATER is “IF SOMETHINGS GONNA KILL ME IT MIGHT AS WELL BE LOVE”. What a title! Its fitting we have the highest chart placement for the band since 1983’s “FELINE” because this charming 17th century style swirling organ led masterpiece has an electronic charm right from those early 80’s days. Pure class…A Masterpiece. I hope Dave can have a listen…

ITS SPRING AND THERES CHANGE” IS JJ SUGGESTING A FUTURE WITH AN ALIEN INSPIRED LOCKDOWN REVOLT OF ANARCHY BRINGING REVOLUTION?! A NEW WORLD ORDER OF SOCIO POLITICAL ECONOMIC CHANGE? “SOMETHING BETTER CHANGE” AS JJ ONCE SAID.! THOUGH IVE FOUND OUT SINCE THIS POST WAS FIRST PUBLISHED THAT WATER IS ABOUT THE ARAB SPRING! THE SONG WAS WRITTEN A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO. THIS ODD VERSION IS POSTED AS THE ORIGINAL SEEMED TO BE REMOVED FOR COPYRIGHT BUT IVE INCLUDED BOTH FOR NOW. THE PHASE INVERSIION VERSION INTERESTS ME FROM A SOUND ENGINEER PERSPECTIVE. ID USE MORE BASS AT THE CHORUS! LESS TINNY AT THAT POINT…SAME WHEN THE LEAD GUITAR COMES IN. PERSONALLY I HOPE AN EXTENDED VERSION IS DONE INCLUDING THE BEST BITS OF TH EPHASE VERSION WITH NORMAL SOUND LEVELS AND NO PHASE FOR THE LEAD GUITAR HEAVY SECTIONS AND CHORUS
INSPIRATION FOR THE STRANGLERS COVER? A VEILED REFERENCE TO SUCH THEORIES? THIS CONSPIRACY THEORY CLASSIC IVE OWNED SINCE A BOY. THE MYSTERY OF THESE TYPES OF BOOKS IS EXEMPLIFIED BY THE RATHER WONDERFUL LP TITLE WITH ITS PLAY ON WORDS ON “DARK MATTER” -WHICH MYSTERIOUSLY TAKES UP SO MUCH OF THE UNIVERSE – AND THE DARK MATTERS THAT NOW CONCERN HUMANITY

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