Years: 1974 - present
Styles: Alternative rock, New Wave, Pop Rock, Post Punk, Punk Rock
Jet Black - Drums, Percussion (in band: 1974 – present)
Hans Wärmling - Backing vocals, Guitar, Keyboards (in band: 1974 - 1975)
Hugh Cornwell - Backing vocals, Guitar, Lead vocals, Vocals (in band: 1974 - 1990)
Jean-Jacques Burnel - Backing vocals, Bass Guitar, Lead vocals, Vocals (in band: 1974 - present)
Dave Greenfield - Backing vocals, Hohner Electrapiano, Keyboards, Lead vocals, MiniMoog, Moog sequencer bass , Vocals (in band: 1975 - present)
John Ellis - Backing vocals, Guitar, Vocals (in band: 1990 - 2000)
Paul Roberts - Lead vocals (in band: 1990 - 2006)
Baz Warne - Guitar, Lead vocals (in band: 2000 - present)
The Stranglers are an English rock band who emerged via the punk rock scene. Scoring some 23 UK top 40 singles and 17 UK top 40 albums to date in a career spanning four decades, the Stranglers are one of the longest-surviving and most "continuously successful" bands to have originated in the UK punk scene.
Formed as the Guildford Stranglers on 11 September 1974 in Guildford, Surrey, ]they originally built a following within the mid-1970s pub rock scene. While their aggressive, no-compromise attitude identified them as one of the instigators of the UK punk rock scene that followed, their idiosyncratic approach rarely followed any single musical genre and the group went on to explore a variety of musical styles, from new wave, art rock and gothic rock through the sophisticated pop of some of their 1980s output.
The group that eventually formed between 1974-75 was originally called the Guildford Stranglers, and operated out of The Jackpot. Aside from Jet Black, other original personnel were bass player/vocalist Jean-Jacques Burnel, guitarist/vocalist Hugh Cornwell and keyboardist/guitarist Hans Wärmling, who was replaced by keyboardist Dave Greenfield within a year. None of the band came from Guildford: Black is from Ilford, Burnel from Notting Hill, Cornwell from Kentish Town and Greenfield from Brighton, while Wärmling came from Sweden and returned there after leaving the band.
The band's early albums, "Rattus Norvegicus", "No More Heroes" and "Black and White", all released within a period of 13 months, were highly successful with the record-buying public and singles such as "Peaches", "Something Better Change" and "No More Heroes" became instant punk classics.
Like the Vibrators, the Stranglers were an older band which managed to gain visibility and success through association with Britain's punk movement. Musically, the group is much more polished than some of their rawer brethren such as the Adverts and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The Stranglers' early work is most properly described as stripped-down pop played with a hardcore sensibility; fairly lengthy songs with frequent solo breaks, prominent keyboard usage, and occasional employment of vocal harmony sets them apart from their peers. But snarling lead singing that puts forth macho/critical/distasteful lyrics predominates here, clearly showing the group's punk affinity.
Most of the songs on this album fit the description of hardcore pop to a tee, but there are a few deviations from this model. "Princess of the Streets" is a slow-tempo selection with blueslike echoes. The ambitious "Down in the Sewer" crosses the concept of episodic numbers like the Who's "A Quick One" with early-'60s instrumentals. And the energetic "London Lady" is almost a true punk song -- or at least as close as the band gets to one. While not the equal of their best album, "No More Heroes", this release is solid and worthwhile, a rewarding listen.
“Rattus” is hardly punk rock classic but still is a pretty good chunk of art-punk. Hugh Cornwell’s testosterone level is very high here, and the mucho preening gets a bit much, but it’s still an enjoyable bit of noise that holds up better than anyone would have guessed at the time. Still, it’s odd to think of this a part of the punk rock era – with the exception of the fast and sloppy production by Martin Rushent, and the short songs, there’s not much that’s overtly punk about it, “No More Heroes” on the other hand is faster, nastier, and better. At this point the Stranglers were on top of their game, and the ferocity and anger that suffuses these records would never be repeated.
Of the first three Stranglers albums, "Black & White" is arguably the weakest, yet it still has some absolutely stunning moments. For example, the epic "Toiler on the Sea" picks up where "Down in the Sewer" and "School Mam" left off on the band's two previous efforts. Ignore the fact that it's a concept album (it has a black side, and a white side, see) and that there are a couple of slightly ill-judged efforts ("In the Shadows" is plain silly, "Outside Tokyo" is whimsical rubbish), and let the rest of the album burn through your speakers. "Nice 'n' Sleazy" does just what it says on the bottle (the band was getting themselves into awful trouble hiring strippers for open air gigs to dance to this one), and "Death and Night and Blood (Yukio)" includes one of those inimitable Stranglers moments: "Bring me a piece of my mummy/She was quite close to me." All together now!
In 1979, one of the Stranglers' two managers advised them to break up as he felt that the band had lost direction, but this idea was dismissed and they parted company with their then current management team. Meanwhile, Burnel released an experimental solo album "Euroman Cometh" backed by a small UK tour and Cornwell recorded the album "Nosferatu" in collaboration with Robert Williams. Later that year the Stranglers released "The Raven", which heralded a transition towards a more melodic and complex sound which appealed more to the album than the singles market.
By the time "The Raven" was released, the Stranglers had branched out a bit from their punk-influenced pop music stylings and grouchy personal-relationship-based lyrics. Half the songs on this album (among them "Dead Loss Angeles," "Nuclear Device," "Shah Shah a Gogo," and "Genetix") spout verses critical of social or political issues. Only the first of these four numbers, with its clipped vocal delivery and stripped-down, bass-heavy arrangement, shows significant British punk influence.
Certain songs here exhibit strong mainstream tendencies with no hardcore sensibilities whatsoever, such as "Duchess" (a tuneful power pop number with clear chart-oriented influences) and "Don't Bring Harry" (a slow-tempo, piano-dominated selection). Still other influences can be heard in "Meninblack," a Devo-derived number featuring a synthesized clipped beat/electronic pulse texture, chilly and sanitized-sounding organ, lockstep drums, and Alvin & the Chipmunks-style sped-up vocals.
The intriguing "Ice" boasts interesting production touches and an inventively dubious tonal focus. The songs are lengthy, with at times prolix instrumental openings and interludes. Sound quality on the EMI America re-release is uneven at times, with occasional distortion in the drums and percussive low synthesizer. This is a generally good album worth hearing. Original pressings of this release have a 3-D picture on the front cover. Approximately half the songs on this album would be reissued one year later on the U.S. label release "IV".
Following the success of The Stranglers' previous four albums they were given complete freedom for their next, "The Gospel According to the Meninblack", a concept album exploring religion and the supposed connection between religious phenomena and extraterrestrial visitors. It was preceded by a single "Who Wants the World?", which didn't appear on the album, and only just made the top 40. "The Gospel According to The Meninblack" was very different from their earlier work and alienated many fans.
It peaked on the UK albums chart at No.8, their lowest placing to date, and in 1981 was widely considered an artistic and commercial failure. The track "Two Sunspots" had been recorded during the "Black And White" sessions in 1978, but was shelved until 1980 when it was rediscovered and placed on "The Gospel According to the Meninblack".
"La Folie" is a welcome album in the Stranglers' oeuvre, mainly a collection of tight, punchy songs that often suggest the forthright approach of American new wave bands. With one exception, the songs are shorter and more pointed, harking back to the comparative conciseness of some of the tunes on the band's first two albums, "Rattus Norvegicus" and "No More Heroes", though acidic lyrics still predominate. "Non-Stop" is a typical example, featuring a half-spoken vocal that suggests Lou Reed, a Cars-influenced organ sound, and a bouncy, dance-derived drum beat; this particular song is atypical, however, because it employs a blues-oriented progression.
An interesting excursion is encountered in the song "Golden Brown," a subdued, jazz-influenced number with purring vocals, a coolly executed synthesizer/harpsichord backing texture, and a periodically stumbling beat. Only the plushly understated title track suggests the sprawl typical of the group's immediately preceding releases. This fine album is well worth purchasing.
Following the Stranglers' return to commercial success, many record companies lined up to sign them. Virgin Records was the most likely choice but Epic Records made a last minute offer and secured the Stranglers' services. The Stranglers once again had complete artistic freedom and in 1983 released their first album for Epic, "Feline", which included the UK No. 9 hit "European Female". The album was another change in musical direction, this time influenced by European music.
It was the first Stranglers album to feature acoustic guitars, and it was on this album that Jet Black began to use electronic drum kits. The album gained much critical success but fell well short of "La Folie" in terms of sales and failed to produce another hit after "European Female". Nonetheless "Feline" broke the Stranglers in Europe and reached No.4 in the UK chart in January 1983 (their last studio album to break the UK Top 10).
1984 saw the release of "Aural Sculpture" which consolidated the band's success in Europe and established them in Oceania. It included the UK No.15 hit "Skin Deep" (which also reached No.11 in Australia and No. 19 in New-Zealand, and Top 30 in the Netherlands). This was their first album to feature the three-piece horn-section which was retained in all their subsequent albums and live performances until Hugh Cornwell's departure in 1990. "Aural Sculpture" was only a moderate success in the UK album charts, peaking at No.14 in November 1984.
Their 1986 album, "Dreamtime", dealt with environmental concerns among other issues. Its signature track, and another radio staple for many years to come, was "Always the Sun" (a No.15 hit in France and No.16 hit in Ireland, No.21 in Australia, No.30 in the UK, and No.42 in the Netherlands). The only Stranglers album to chart in the US, "Dreamtime" was again only a moderate hit in the UK, reaching No. 16 in November 1986.
Over an illustrious history (and don't let those so-called punk historians tell you that they either weren't punk or weren't important) the Stranglers actually released very, very few bad albums. "10", sad to say, is one of the few, and it's an absolute stinker. Having creaked into the '90s, this proved to be the final album from the original lineup (who'd been together for 15 years), their tenth studio album giving them the inspiration for the title. The truth is, there was barely concealed hatred percolating between main men Jean-Jacques Burnel and Hugh Cornwell. Yet rather than produce any kind of edge, the tensions inexplicably resulted in this meager fare of dislocated pop and half-assed R&B. There really are no discernible redeeming features.
In August 1990, founding member Hugh Cornwell left the band to pursue a solo career. In his autobiography, Cornwell stated that he felt the band was a spent force creatively, and cited various examples of his increasingly acrimonious relationship with his fellow band-members, particularly Burnel. The remaining members recruited John Ellis, who had had a long-standing association with the band.
He had opened for them in the 1970s as a member of The Vibrators, filled in for Cornwell during his time in prison for drug possession in 1980, worked with Burnel and Greenfield in their side-project Purple Helmets, and been added to the Stranglers' line-up as a touring guitarist a short time before Cornwell's departure. Burnel and Ellis briefly took over vocal duties (for one television appearance on The Word) before enlisting Paul Roberts, who sang on most songs live, even those originally sung by Burnel. This line-up recorded four albums: "Stranglers in the Night" (1992), "About Time" (1995), "Written in Red" (1997) and "Coup de Grace" (1998).
The Stranglers achieved something of a critical and popular renaissance in 2004 with the acclaimed "Norfolk Coast" album and a subsequent sell-out tour, together with their first Top-40 hit (No. 31 UK) in fourteen years, "Big Thing Coming". In 2005, "Coast to Coast: Live on Tour" was released, the live album contained songs recorded during their tour the previous year. On their sellout UK tour they were supported by "Goldblade".
In May 2006, Roberts left the band, and The Stranglers were now back to a four-piece line-up: Burnel, Black, Greenfield and Warne, with the lead vocals shared between Warne and Burnel. In concert, Burnel returned to singing the songs he originally recorded as lead vocalist, and Warne sang the numbers originally led by Hugh Cornwell.
"Suite XVI", the follow-up album to "Norfolk Coast", was released in September 2006 (the title is a pun on "Sweet 16" and also a reference to the fact that it was the band's sixteenth studio album) and continued the band's resurgence. Although partly a return to the band's heavier punk roots, the album featured a typically idiosyncratic mixture of musical styles which included a country and western style Johnny Cash pastiche/homage "I Hate You".
In 2009 the band played at the biggest open-air festival in Europe (400,000 – 500,000 rock fans every year) – Przystanek Woodstockin Poland.
Across the summer 2010 the band played a number of festivals, including Weyfest and Glastonbury and T in the Park in the UK and Oxegen 2010 in Ireland, and concerts in Japan, Greece, Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria. The band also released a new live album and DVD, recorded at the Hammersmith Apollo in May 2010. In March 2011, the band completed another UK tour. Burnel's long term friend, Wilko Johnson, was invited to bring The Wilko Johnson band on the tour. In April, the band began touring Europe, with many gigs and major festivals lined up for the entire year.
2013 saw the band play a full UK tour, with Black playing the second half at most gigs (Jim Macaulay taking the first half). Several festivals were booked for 2013, including a session at the BBC Proms on 12 August. For the North America tour, Black was no longer touring with Macaulay playing the entire show.
In 2014, the band celebrated their fortieth birthday with a Ruby Tour, throughout the UK and Europe. In 2015, the March On tour had 18 dates around the United Kingdom. Where stage space allowed, a second drum kit was set up and Jet Black appeared for a set of four songs. A proposed gig in Moscow was announced and then cancelled due to visa difficulties, but a mini-tour of the UK took place in July. The band then played gigs throughout Europe, ending in November. In April 2016, they returned to New Zealand and Australia.
Black has not performed on stage with the band since partial-set appearances in March 2015, although he remains an official member of the band. Jim Macaulay appeared in a promotional photograph alongside Burnel, Greenfield and Warne for the first time in 2016, while Black was not depicted.
1. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stranglers#Discography
2. All Music Guide to Rock. The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop and Soul. 3rd Edition 2002. Edited by Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Published by Backbeat Books, page 1087-1088, David Cleary
3. All Music Guide to Rock. The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop and Soul. 3rd Edition 2002. Edited by Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Published by Backbeat Books, page 1088, John Dougan
4. All Music Guide to Rock. The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop and Soul. 3rd Edition 2002. Edited by Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Published by Backbeat Books, page 1088, Alex Ogg
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