Giants... Not pictured: The Stranglers
Review: The Stranglers – Giants
Published on March 12th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
The combined age of The Stranglers’ current line-up – namely Baz Warne, Dave Greenfield, Jean-Jacques Burnel and Jet Black – totals 242 years. At a sprightly 47, Warne is comfortably the youngest of the four, while drummer Black is 73. How then, in the name of all that is holy, have they managed to sound so gosh-darn fresh and brimming with vitality on what amounts to this band’s seventeenth studio album, albeit in various incarnations?
Make no mistake; if this was the work of newcomers, our nation’s fine media would be falling over themselves, salivating as they do, to proclaim them “the best new band in Britain”. As it is, this wonderful collection of colourful pop master-strokes (yes, we are still talking about The Stranglers here) would appear to be destined for a far narrower reach than it is abundantly worthy of.
There’s a good chance that the band themselves are beyond caring about such matters, but wouldn’t it be great if this MkIV line-up could score a hit to rank alongside such former glories as “Golden Brown” and “No More Heroes”? On this evidence, they’re fully deserving of the platform that will instead be afforded to whichever shower of vacuous, skinny-jeaned chancers is next to emerge immaculately coiffured from the hype machine. Plus ça change, as Burnel himself might conceivably shrug.
Burnel’s rugged, metallic slabs of bass drive instrumental opener “Another Camden Afternoon”, a suitably breezy air infiltrated into the bluesy jamming by a lovely round of ‘ooh’s and a tremendously unexpected chord change, before “Freedom is Insane” sets itself up with a commendably un-cheesy-sounding combination of ’80s synth strings and soothing ocean noises. Naturally, it breaks into an up-tempo power-pop sort of thing, boasting the kind of jagged, jarring yet utterly thrilling chorus that only a band firing on all cylinders could pull off. “Here we are so very far from all the rest,” sings Burnel, perhaps all-too-aware of his group’s place in the current ‘scene’. He doesn’t sound all that concerned, and nor should he.
Greenfield’s keys are in imperious form, knowing precisely when to swirl dizzyingly and when to pick out simple yet killer riffs, and his fizzy synth bubbles get the title track off to a delightfully silly start before wandering into a discordant chord change like a children’s cartoon character wandering into a bad neighbourhood. Warne’s low, grumbling croon sounds fantastic in contrast with this shady frivolity, and his generation-condemning lyrics (“I’m glad my father’s not here to see/What happened to men like him/They fought the battles these dwarves can only talk about”) signals a commanding presence that carries across the album.
“Time Was Once on My Side”
The quirky time signature of “Lowlands” throws a very welcome curve-ball into the diverse, evocatively atonal songwriting mix; the hypothetical megahit “Boom Boom” showcases the warmth and gentle good humour in Warne’s vocals with such infectious lines as “there’s a joke in there somewhere that’s meant for you”, while his lasciviously breathy delivery in “My Fickle Resolve” recalls Jarvis Cocker on one of This is Hardcore‘s lighter moments. “If feeling like a rubber band when all of the elastic’s dead is normal/Well, I’m loose, man,” he intones oh-so-coolly, Black’s brush-stroke shuffles completing the breezily contemplative effect in expert fashion.
You may have noticed the rampant deployment of superlatives in this review thus far, and this owes more to the quality of the material on show than any hyperbole on our part. “Time Was Once on My Side” could be a Parklife/Great Escape-era Blur track, Burnel ranting “I was told not to open the box/But they left me alone without changing the locks” before Warne’s fizzily melodic, Super Furry Animals-esque chorus ties it all together something thrilling; “Mercury Rise” features more of Warne’s splendid speak-singing, followed by a chorus that features the best musical enunciation of the word ‘fizz’ that you’re ever likely to hear; meanwhile…
Actually, let’s stay on “Mercury Rise” for a little longer. At first, its chorus sounds as if it could use a chord change or two, but further listening makes a mockery of this initial instinct. This is a proper party tune; sleazy, stomping, disorienting and a whole heap of fun, placing it alongside “Boom Boom” in the ‘imagine the fuss if a young band came out with this’ stakes. And, believe it or not, Giants gets even better.
“Adios (Tango)” is a mini-masterpiece, a Spanish-tongued stomper that wields Black’s crashing, stop-start drums like the Pied Piper’s flute – suffice it to say, this could conceivably wind up a live favourite – before ending with a synth-submerged Warne wearily tendering what sounds like “It’s easy to see when the seasons have gone/Not so when the heart is moved”.
All of which just leaves “15 Steps”, which at this stage might very well be Rocksucker’s favourite track on the album. It’s not an epic closer but it is a devastating one, jaunty yet with a shady, slightly sinister edge, as consummately encapsulated by Greenfield’s superb descending keyboard couplets and Burnel’s thrillingly counter-melodic bass. “There are fifteen steps to heaven/Eddie Cochran got it wrong/And if you surrender your soul, you’ll feel a shake, rattle and roll/Before too long” exhorts Warne, before later delivering a “we don’t care!” so ecstatic and energising as to cast his earlier “fizzzz!” into still-noble shade.
In short, this is a phenomenal set of tunes that merits a much broader audience than The Stranglers’ hardcore fan base. Chances are it won’t cross over, and that’s every bit as much of an indictment on our generation as the materialistic looting that fuelled the lyrical broadside of Giants‘s title track. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another six years until the next one.
Rocksucker says: Nine Quails out of Ten!