Under-appreciated Band of the Week: The Stranglers
Smart Post Punk Pop
Hugely popular in the UK and Europe, the Stranglers never quite made it as the supergroup they really were. Intelligent, defiant, creative and mysterious the Stranglers smashed their way to the top of the UK charts during the heyday of the Sex Pistols in 1977. Their staying power is stunning as they have continued to have hits on into the 21st Century- and remain an exciting touring band in 2014.
The Stranglers, as musicians, never really fit in to any formal music category although they did start out as punks with 2 of that era’s defining songs in ‘Peaches’ and ‘No More Heroes’– both UK Top 10 hits in 1977. Other grungy hits followed like ‘Nice and Sleazy’ and ‘Walk On By’ but by the close of the ’70s the Stranglers had morphed in to an odd new wave existence.
They seemed to have reached a point of oblivion with ‘The Gospel According To the Men In Black’ which was a critical and commercial failure when it was released in 1981. This album was way ahead of its’ time as it lyrically took on subjects like UFO’s, aliens and secret societies. Musically ‘Gospel’ covered various areas including the Dave Greenfield opus ‘Waltz In Black’– an interesting keyboard sound that paved the way for the band’s biggest hit ‘Golden Brown’ in 1982.
To say the ‘Golden Brown’ doesn’t fit in to the norms of what we call pop music would be an understatement. Centered around a baroque piano melody and intriguing and mysterious lyrics ‘Golden Brown’ literally struck a chord with UK
and northern European record buyers in the winter of 1981/1982. By February of ’82 is was #2 on the BBC World Service chart, battling the likes of the Human League, Soft Cell and the Jam for the top spot. Eventually ‘Golden Brown’ was certified as a Gold record in the UK and reached the Top 10 in Ireland, Belgium and Holland.
The overall sound of the Stranglers now concentrated on melody rather than attitude. Their lyrics became philosophical, even melancholy. The production of their LP’s and singles became meticulous and vibrant. They began to sell a lot of records and by the end of the 80s had scored 6 more Top 20 albums and 10 additional UK Top 40 hits. You’d think they’d become Duran Duran or something….but alas they remained virtually unknown in America- and despite a brief US chart presence in 1986 with the LP ‘Dreamtime’ and the FM hit ‘Always the Sun’- Stranglers in the US was a dead deal.
In the early 1990’s matters came to a head when guitarist Hugh Cornwell decided quite suddenly to leave the band. The remaining three, Jet Black (drums), JJ Burnel (bass) and Dave Greenfield (keyboards) have continued on over the past two decades and issued a series of top quality albums that despite missing the keen Cornwell wit- contain a lot of great neo-punk songs. In 2004 they even returned to the UK Top 40 with ‘Norfolk Coast’. With various replacements for Cornwell, the Stranglers remain a top live attraction in 2014, some 40 years after they debuted as the Guilford Stranglers in 1974. Hopefully they’ll reunite with Cornwell soon and we”l be treated with more haunting and beautiful melodies in 2014 and beyond-from the most talented “punk” band of all time…..if not… well…there’s always the sun.