The Stranglers, The Raven 1979, United Artists
Dead Loss Angeles
Nuclear Device (The Wizard of Aus)
Shah Shah a Go Go
(Don’t Bring) Harry
Formed in 1974 just outside of London in Guildford, Surrey, The Stranglers, though part of the punk scene experimented with a lot of musical styles. This has contributed to their impressive longevity. The original band members had an eclectic musical history across, blues, jazz and classical music which added to the stylistic mix. Before starting work on The Raven, their fourth album, the band had parted company with their original management and released some solo projects. This album represented a significant shift in sound and style from their previous releases, and was a very definite move towards the synth-pop that would dominate the British music scene in the 1980s.
The Raven controversially reached Number 4 in the chart as it’s now believed that a lot of its sales were inaccurately attributed to The Police who somehow managed to reach the top half of the chart with an album that they had not yet released. The album is considered by many fans to be The Stranglers’ creative peak. Hugh Cornwell on guitar. Jean-Jacques Burnel on vocals and bass, Dave Greenfield on keyboards and Jet Black on drums had toured extensively outside europe before the recording of this album and their exposure to other cultures and to world politics fueled their writing. Tracks from the album still feature heavily in the band’s live sets.
Instrumental opener Longships draws you into dark title track The Raven where the vocal is almost a whisper, the drums are delicate and the synth reigns supreme as it will throughout the album. Despite being bass-driven, Dead Loss Angeles still feels a long way from punk, again it’s pure synth pop. Ice starts with a strong drum beat and then continues the heavy use of synth. The opening piano soars on Nuclear Device but this is the closest to a traditional punk song in both lyrical content and delivery. I’m glad they are showing some of their roots here. The drums on Shah Shah a Go Go are a highlight but the song itself is two minutes too long. The menacing (Don’t Bring) Harry, their slightly lesser known ode to heroin, slows things down, it’s the disturbing stand out track of the album. Duchess picks up the tempo and is the perfect rock and synth blend. It’s the obvious single, their transition in microcosm. Meninblack has a deliberately weird “alien” vocal. It’s interesting and the song isn’t bad, but it does feel very gimmicky. Closer Genetix is a toe-tapper which owes a fair bit to prog-rock despite the rather heavy lyrics.
There is a definite Pink Floyd vibe to this album and the influence of drugs is obvious with a plethora of paranoid lyrics. If you want synth with harder edged lyrics then this album is for you. I was looking for more old-school Stranglers, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped, but I think that’s more to do with my own punk leanings than the actual quality of the album. Despite the dark nature of a lot of the lyrics, this is definitely full of tracks that you can move to and it is important in that it shows that some truly talented bands came out of the punk scene, bands who were able to embrace the diversity of music and experiment with they how they made it. The Stranglers were still writing great songs well into the 1990s and their contribution to this era of British music should not be overlooked.