5.0 out of 5 stars
The Authentic 1977 Punk Rock UK Masterpiece, Feb. 15 2003
More often than not in magazine articles, books and television documentaries about UK Punk Rock, The Stranglers are ignored or at best written off as 'not really Punk'. The reality back in 1977 when 'Stranglers IV (Rattus Norvegicus)' was released was that the band were the Punk Rock group of choice for the majority of the original UK punk rock kids (both cognoscenti and latecomers) alongside the Sex Pistols. While the latter bands' musical brilliance was often overwhelmed by the Jubilee year media circus their manager Malcom McLaren exploited, The Stranglers relied on their multicoloured, malevolent music and their own eldritch personas.
For original punks like myself, who could relate to the youthfulness of The Sex Pistols, The Stranglers were not boys but mature men - and all the scarier and more significant for it. The Stranglers summoned up the feeling of walking around British towns at night in the late seventies for young men, full of fear, unrequited lust, misanthropic romanticism, sick of the violence and sex we saw everywhere, the former so close, the latter often frustratingly beyond our youthful reach. Branded as sexist bullies by the music press, the band were merely honest: young men often are aggressive and lustful. Their music is misanthropic, but it has a shadowy existential beauty, heartrending melodic sentiments reminiscent of The Doors often pouring out of a scree of uptempo noise like that of The Velvet Underground, but always uniquely The Stranglers. To lay one myth to rest, their music was never a problem for women either - there were (and still are) plenty of girls at their gigs.
Containing two hit singles (the corcuscating 'Grip', whose tumbling psychedelic organ riffs are counterpointed by the Coltranesque sax motif played by Welsh coalminer session man Eric Clarke and the top ten smash 'Peaches', whose killer cod-reggae moog and bass groove provides perfect backing for this unashamed and refreshing admission of male lust for the opposite sex), 'Rattus' peaked in the UK at number 2 and helped the band become the top selling band in Britain in 1977 with the exception of Abba and The Eagles: of course, they also sold more records than all the UK Punk groups put together for the first few years of their existence - even now it is uncertain if The Clash & The Pistols have ever outsold them cumulatively.
'Goodbye Toulouse' is a romantic stomper, a kind of Punk 'Song For Europe' while the mammoth 'Down In The Sewer' is gritty science fiction with a Ray Bradbury 'something wicked this way comes' carnival organ, vertiginously melodic guitar and a prog-rock coda that kicked the ass of proficiency somewhat. 'Ugly' , one of the most vicious sounding pieces of music in history (including 'Sister Ray') references Shelley and Burnel's shouted line in the middle of the song when the music stops still shocks. 'Sometimes', 'Princess of the Street' and 'Hanging Around' remain the definitive portraits of the cold, wet, dark, dreary but horribly exciting British street nightlife of the Punk era.
This album showcases the band at their first peak: recorded live in the studio, with equal weight given to keyboards and bass as the guitar in a production that reveals them as stylists both technically proficient and quirkily unique: J.J. Burnel, whose savage sound confirms the bass as a lead instrument in rock, up there with Eberhardt Weber, Barry Adamson, Mick Karn, John Cale and Chris Hillman. Dave Greenfield, the Hendrix of rock keyboards, whose technical ability would within a year outstrip that of Wakeman, Lord, Banks or Emerson already had a better grasp of melody and structure than any of them, his riffs as complex as solos, his lightning solos out of this world. Hugh Cornwell, whose Robbie Kreiger via VU guitar alternately grated like bells struck with sandpapered hammers before pulling off solos of unparalleled lyrical angst. Finally, I must mention Jet Black, the solid, evocative drummer, whose cymbal crashes on 'Princess of the Streets' are a perfect example of affect in simplicity. The vocals, shared between Burnel and Cornwell are full of both ire and longing. The ultimate strength of the Stranglers is that nothing is wasted, no instrument or voice is 'lead' or overly foregrounded - this is a band, not a frontman with a guitar backed by bass and keyboards you cannot distinctly hear. Kudos to the brilliant Martin Rushent, better known for producing the Human League, whose finest moment this is rather than those he enjoyed with the Sheffield synthesists.
So that was true Punk Rock in 1977, not the political claptrap you've been told - The Stranglers formed at much the same time as The Sex Pistols and sold more records and never compromised- they even had a keyboard player, a true mark of real Punk Rock authenticity/audacity before the Stalinist formula of Clash-esque politically correct protest (leave it to Bob Dylan, Strummer!) and the uniform punk look drove the artists out of the scene. There are few records as angry, as lysergically colourful and as decadently lyrical as Rattus Norvegicus. Hear it and live the reality of UK Punk Rock 1977 while marvelling at how few bands can play this dynamically now.