The Stranglers ‘Giants’ – album review
”ËGiants’ album review
Finally free from record company pressure, free from having to bother with the pointless world of the charts, free from expectation, free from any constraints the rat pack in black of the Stranglers have cut their finest album for years. An album that will put this big cult band with its fascinating and strange history back into the increasingly fractured mainstream
That’s saying something because the last two albums were great and kicked the band back into gear after the wasted decade of the nineties where they survived on their powerful live shows and their releases just came and went.
2004’s ‘Norfolk Coast’ showed there was life left in The Stranglers whilst 2006’s ‘Suite 16’ continued this return to form. ‘Giants’ cranks it up to the max.
The key here is the production. It’s sharp, energetic and raw. It’s also crystal clear and you can hear everything. Baz is fully to the fore, a decade in the band has meant he is a full Strangler now and his guitar is one of the key features on the record, switchblade sharp, full of bluesy licks and scratching and scraping like a Telecaster should.
JJ’s bass sounds the best is has done for years and the gnarled sound cuts through the mix in a way that we have been waiting for. Meanwhile both frontman deliver their best vocals – sometimes snarling, sometimes wistful, sometimes melancholic and sometimes just purely eccentric and beautifully strange.
This is The Stranglers as we want them. Unapologetic, hundred per cent pure Stranglers. Stranglers who combine that urgent, inventive energy with a textured, perfumed melancholy. There is intelligence and playfulness here and an originality that has always made them impossible to place.
Aptly named, ”ËGiants’ is classic Stranglers.
If you like the band for their tough sound, black belt bass and eccentric songs that sound like nothing else and yet sound like great pop music then you’re going to love this.
Instead of mellowing out in their old age, the band have never sounded so alive and vibrant. The production is the best since the classic early days and the band are truly on fire. The playing is tough and the band sound alive; there is a darkness, a sensitivity delivered with some of the best vocals of their career.
There is also a massive range of styles from a heavy metal tango (it really is!) to brush stroke neo jazz, to snarling classic Stranglers to those swooping salt stained classics the band were always great at.
They have managed to encompass all their great moments with no compromise and an eye on the future. I’ve been living inside this album since I got it and I don’t want to get out. Like all great Stranglers albums, it’s a voyage, that yearning journey – we are back on the longship with the crew in black and the raven on the ship’s head and the rats scurrying across the deck. Surely this is what this album. Like all great Stranglers records, it’s a trip, a psychedelic trip, shut your eyes and your away – at their best this is what they excelled at – making music that was 3D, pictorial.
Few bands can be bothered to sound this alive at this stage of the game and by snubbing the increasingly banal mainstream the band have only gone and made their most commercial album for years.
The Stranglers revival is on going.
This most unconventional of bands who woke up eight years ago with ”ËNorfolk Coast’ and kept the creative high through ”ËSuite 16′ have upped the ante with their new album ”ËGiants’.
It seems odd that so far down the line it’s only the second album with Baz as a joint lead vocalist and he sounds in command here.
What’s they have done here is finally dump the notion that they could have a ‘radio single’. There is no attempt to kowtow to the mainstream media. This time the Stranglers are doing what the Stranglers do best- make music on their own terms, no apologies, you have to go to them and it works- making the album, bizarrely, even more commercial. Oozing classic melody, the best melodies they have come up with for years but placed in strange and beautiful and stark songs they have created a, well, giant.
Mainstream radio is lost these days, too concerned with everything apart from the music. The best bands operate on their own terms, let them come to you!
If the last two albums saw the band rediscover their knack for tough, snarling rock n roll, this time they have made it tougher.
The key thing is the bass is back, it never went away of course but on ”ËGiants’ first track, ”ËAnother Camden Afternoon’ you are thirty seconds in and the classic JJ Burnel sound which he invented and has been endlessly copied suddenly makes an appearance. At that moment you know you are going to be on a ride. ”ËAnother Camden Afternoon’ is an instrumental, The Stranglers were always good at instrumentals and this is no exception. Originally it had lyrics about a mugging Camden it’s stripped back to the musical wash of that great blues guitar and the swaggering bass.
The guitar has the blues revival kind of lick from the late sixties, those sort of bands that JJ used to watch as a wild teenager. Baz’s guitar has never sounded better, it sounds sharp, switchblade sharp as he runs through the classic British blues boom licks. The bass is simple and prowling, with that rat walk leer – it sounds like JJ played it perched on one leg staring into the void.
Dave’s keyboard is classic sixties Hammond that peels off into lysergic strangeness every now and then. The album has a lot more of this Hammond stuff from Dave and les of the classic keyboard bubbling that is his trademark but this is to the record’s advantage. The whole feel of the song is like the instrumental section of ”ËWalk On By’ with a haunting melancholia. There’s something about the loping groove that the Jet Black lays down that is pure Stranglers, that motornik backbeat drumming, repetitive hypnotic. Relentless.
”ËFreedom Is Insane’ is a classic Stranglers title. It’s thought provoking, is this some sort of JJ political speak, some controversy, some trouble making from one of rock n roll’s great trouble makers? The bassist delivers perhaps the best vocal of his career- a wistful croon that Jim Morrison would have been proud of as the song has that kind of stormy sea 3D feel of the class ”ËLongships’/’Raven’ two track opening all those years ago. The intro is atmospheric, lapping waves and a moody build with JJ’s great vocal croon before it kicks in. Written in Cornwall during the Suite 16 sessions after an all night staring at the sea session from the bassist the song sits perfectly on the new album. There are some classic keyboard runs from Dave Greenfield and some twanging Shadows on acid lead from Baz but it’s the bass again that sets the agenda, chugging away like a Stranglers bass should. The chorus is great, a classic Stranglers twist. The song already sits well in their canyon of classics.
The next track is ”ËGiants’, the title track which is a great piece of Stranglers quirk, bouncing in on another bluesy tremloed lick from Baz which gives the song its great swing aided by another great Jet Black groove, it has another great vocal from JJ, who leers his way through the track entwined with great guitar playing from Baz. The song also has a great middle eight, pure melody, the kind of melody that the Stranglers were famous, dripping melody but with a darkness. ”ËI’m glad my father is not here to see what happened to men like him’ laments JJ with another great vocal – world weary, looking at a world gone mad with the bankers and the bosses fleecing the planet, it’s political and philosophical work. If the song has some of the flavours of mid period Stranglers it us pumped by the crisp production that gives it the whiff of danger that we need.
”ËLowlands’ starts with a scratching, scraping guitar that recalls ”ËBitching’ and then a really cool, wonky keyboard part. Baz does a great piece of story telling about the band on the road in Holland doing a radio promo tour, sat in the car getting stoned making up the song on the spot. Baz’s vocals are pure snarling, leering, belligerent Stranglers.
”ËBoom Boom’ is typical Baz Stranglers, a punchy song, with a great chorus, the way he spits out the Boom Boom hook is great and Dave lays down a really cool Doorsy (sorry!) lick that drives the song along. The guitar line is like the Stones ”ËThe Last Time’ as Baz looks at the girls in his life.
”ËMy Fickle Resolve’ is one of those jazzy things the band have been doing over recent years, stripped down and riding on a great bass line, Baz takes the vocal and the song shows that they have perfected this style of world weary songs. The album is full of this, the band have made an album that acknowledges the passing of time, it has the creaking wisdom of age, the introspection of old warriors. Baz croons as the band do these great oooohs in the background in the hypnotic outro of the song which also has this really cool keyboard break from Dave G. The Stranglers are so good at these various styles, their eclectic nature is their strength and also the reason that they have been glorious outsiders in a music business that likes to parcel bands up.
The song also underlines the musicianship on the album which is great, the band have looseness about them that only great players can deliver, JJ’s acoustic bass on the track has the kind of swing on it that very few can deliver.
”ËTime Was Once On My Side’ kicks in with another great scratchy guitar- such a signature Stranglers sound- surely this is what Telecasters are meant to sound like and the bass runs in with a really cool run- pure JJ and the band hit that Stranglers fairground Wurlitzer groove, JJ sings this one with a strident distorted vocal that is back to the pure snarling JJ of yore, ”Ëtime was once on my side’ goes the hooky chorus- another piece of Strangler introspection as JJ looks over the madness of his life with a great lyric. The vocal is great again on this one and there is a really unlikely neo-Madness ska break in the middle which kicks in after this really great chord change that is pure Kinks.
”ËMercury Rising’ is the band wandering into some kind of Meninblack style weirdness, another great bass sound underpins the track, as the track lurches around in different directions as only the Stranglers can, Baz intones a growling vocal in the verse and one of those enunciate all the consonants spat out choruses. Jet Black provides a great rhythm- Jet being a man who never takes the obvious 4/4 when he can get something else in there. The song is flavoured by strange keyboard sound from Dave. The Stranglers do weird so well. Go on make this one a single”Â¦
”ËAdios (Tango)’ enters like the Who’s ”ËWon’t get Fooled Again’ with some of the heaviest guitar I’ve heard on a Stranglers record, switching from major to minor chords and then twists into one of the oddest Stranglers songs ever. With a Tango riff that is total JJ- last year he was enthusing to me about Argentinean Tango- the song is wistful and melancholic and oozes the sex of the tango as JJ intones the lyrics in impeccable Spanish (Argentinean?)- the best song on the album? Possibly. It’s powerfully effective and like nothing else the band have ever done, it could make a great curveball single. The band call it heavy metal tango and that sums it up.
”Ë15 steps’ is one of those hypnotic things the Stranglers do so well, chugging along on one of those Johnny Cash style licks it has the same kind of churning rush as the fab ”ËRelentless’ off the last album, ’15 steps to heaven Eddie Cochran got it wrong’ intones Baz as the album comes to a triumphant close.
Giants is a triumph. The band have spent their time to create a late period masterpiece. Baz has pulled out every trick on the guitar and helped to refine the Stranglers sound, what’s also great is that the bass has been cranked up and the production is snarling and sharp. The Stranglers have just got on with being the Stranglers, like all the great bands they are making music on their own terms.
Never have they sounded so urgent. Never have they sounded so dark, philosiphical, melodic, snarling and triumphant.
Giants is a Triumph (in every possible sense).