sat 19/10/2019

CD: The Stranglers - Giants | reviews, news & interviews

CD: The Stranglers - Giants

CD: The Stranglers - Giants

Punk veterans surprise with a rich and sneakily touching 17th album

The end of the road for The Stranglers?

This album caught me completely off guard. The Stranglers work of the late Seventies/early Eighties is classic post-punk pop but their critical and (slight) commercial comeback since 2004’s Norfolk Coast album has been less convincing. Giants, however, is a corker. The band’s oldest member, drummer Jet Black, may now be 73 – and is pictured on the CD wearing an oxygen mask – but this is the sound of a reinvigorated quartet utilising their last-gang-in-town status to create music that’s poignant, tuneful, and unafraid of adventure.

Giants startles from the start, opening with instrumental “Another Camden Afternoon”, a gritty electric blues duel between Jean-Jacques Burnel’s bass and Baz Warne’s guitar that emanates fine-tuned tension. The pair share vocal duties throughout and, although Warne joined in 2000 whereas Burnel has been a Strangler forever, the former is clearly as integral to their dynamic as long-gone frontman Hugh Cornwall ever was.

There is something of Leonard Cohen’s wry, talk-sung fatalism to these songs, especially on the title track, a fiercely felt ode to better times and better people. Other comparative musical touchstones include late-period Madness and the sleazy rumble of Barry Adamson, but these are mere tints for the Stranglers identity is imprinted hard all over. From the doomed jazz shuffle of “My Fickle Resolve” to the triumphant power pop of “15 Steps” (“There are 15 steps to heaven/old Eddie Cochran got it wrong”), it all has the ring of a statement, a ring, even, of finality. It harks back not to punk but to their best Eighties hits (think "Always the Sun"), yet there’s a punk kernel of smirking emotional toughness, with Dave Greenfield’s contagious keyboard lines wrapped around a unit on peak songwriting form.

Old bands churning out late-period work rarely receive the dues they think they deserve, beloved only of their hardcore fanbase. Usually this is because they’ve become a wan photocopy of former glories. Sometimes, though, age breeds a weary seen-it-all wisdom and fuck-you attitude that ingrains the music with touching vitality, flicking the Vs cockily at all doubters. This is such an occasion.

 Listen to the single "Time Was Once On My Side"

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