THE STRANGLERS - BLACK & WHITE VINYL - 1978
MUSIC ::: REVIEW
In the summer of 1979, a punk band named The Cat's Ass - who played at Boston clubs like The Rat - rented a Cape Cod cottage on the same lake as my friend George. There were stories of people passed out on their lawn in the morning dew. Part of The Cat's Ass entourage was a gentleman who went by the name of Prince Valium and he had some sort of industry tie that gave him access to records. George came home that fall with a stack of vinyl that included The Cars, The Police, Joe Jackson, the A&M No Wave Compilation, Eddie & The Hot Rods, The Sex Pistols, Roderick Falconer and The Stranglers. We were 16 and impressionable. We chopped off our hair, stuck safety pins through our ears and began raiding the clothing racks at the local Salvation Army. Bon Scott's AC/DC and their "Whole Lotta Rosie" kind of hinted at there being a change in the air but they shunned any punk association - adamantly proclaiming their allegiance to rock & roll. George's newly acquired collection had opened Pandora's Box.
The albums were all game changers but there was one album in particular. It was literally made of marbled black & white vinyl.
From the opening salvo of "Tank" it sounded like The Doors had been twisted up like an oversized elastic band to the verge of snapping and then let go. Propelled simultaneously by winding keyboard arpeggios and bass lines sounding as though someone had taken razor blades to the speakers. They made the invitation to drive my very own tank quite appealing. "Nice 'n' Sleazy" brought everything sharply into focus. Much of this new music had reggae rhythm and underpinnings but this wasn't The Police or Joe Jackson's punk-reggae. This was strident, urgent and dripping with sleaze. There were also Hendrix-like stereo panning that sent the synth solos searing a hole from left to right. Someone was paying attention to a whole other level of the production values. This turned out to be a man named Martin Rushent.
Rushent had worked on the band's earlier releases Rattus Norvegicus and No More Heroes but this would be the third and last collabrative project between the two. He would go on to work with The Buzzcocks, Altered Images and Human League but this was his magnum opus.
"Outside Tokyo" is the first sign that the band could turn an oddball time signature inside out and that the band had the capability of taking such an abrasive approach to songwriting and turn it into something beautiful. The grand waltz feeling hinted at what would come in the future in the form of "Golden Brown."
Not that it wasn't apparent from the get-go but by the time "Hey! (Rise of the Robots)" comes rolling around, the bass playing prowess of Jean-Jacques Burnel begins to really manifest. There is a manic attack similar to period acts like The Rezillos but the stuttering and spastic runs here aren't new wave pogo - this is the sound of a fuckin' chain saw revving up. His work and sound on B&W Vinyl has inspired countless lesser imitators. "Sweden (All Quiet On The Eastern Front)" pays respect to the only country where the clouds are interesting and JJ keeps churning and keyboardist Greenfield's relentless piano riffing seems to barely be keeping pace. The arpeggio tricks were heavily used throughout the first two LPs and become a trademark part of their sound but by now the ruse has been perfected.
"Toiler On The Sea" intro sounds like something Gary Numan coveted while Hugh Cornwell's mid-song rant about "a flock of seagulls" came long before it was lifted as a moniker for a band. "Curfew" with its DEVOesque rhythms and anthemic group choruses. "Do You Wanna" stretches thin before morphing into into "Death and Night and Blood," which contains one of the all-time great punk sentiments, "Hey little baby don't you lean down low. Your brain's exposed and it's starting to show your rotten thoughts yuck." This isn't a casual observation, it is delivered with utmost contempt.
"In The Shadows" precedes dubstep by thirty years. The whomp bass line is downright frightening. It as unsettling as The Cure's "Subway Song." scream. What's that in the shadows? It's The Stranglers.
Their reputation preceded them and they were often misunderstood - accidently on purpose. Were they mysogynists? They were highly educated. How much is satire? They didn't want to be in any club that would want them and it became a problem, problem, problem, problem. They were the outcasts in the eye of an outcast movement and their rejection led to even more anti-social behaviour - assaulting journalists (duct-taping one to the Eiffel Tower), brawling with other bands, setting off riots, serving jail time on drug charges.
Black & White Vinyl is a punk rock tour de force.
- Nice 'n' Sleazy
- Outside Tokyo
- Hey! (Rise of the Robots)
- Sweden (All Quiet on the Eastern Front)
- Toiler on the Sea
- Do You Wanna
- Death and Night and Blood (Yukio)
- In the Shadows
- Enough Time"