One thing that tends to help bring bands into the spotlight is by being surrounded by good publicity, or what’s more commonly known as hype. Many bands have only become famous due to this, however it is undoubtedly one of the key aspects to becoming a well known band. A tried and tested way of grabbing the spotlight is by having a recognisable image. When one thinks of Muse, alien conspiracies and mind blowing live shows spring to mind, Johnny Cash was "the man in black" and so on. In the late seventies, being seen as a group of rebels was all the rage and few managed it quite as successfully as The Stranglers. Where ever they went they left a path of chaos and destruction, JJ Burnell (who was a black belt in karate) for instance once threatened to cut Paul Simonon’s neck open, a French gig once ended up in riots after a Stranglers gig, and the fact that such street gangs like The Finchley boys where well known fans of their music did nothing but add to their menacing persona. But not only did they look menacing, they sounded
menacing. Burnell's obtrusive bass dominated their songs and Cornwell’s sneered lyrics were heaped in controversy. Black And White was their third release and showed a more prog side to the group.
The concept of this album was that the music and the lyrics for the first half (the white side) would be written be Hugh Cornfield while the second half (obviously the black side) would be of Burnell’s making. What turned out was slightly different, Cornwell wrote everything for the white half but Burnell only wrote three of the songs on the black half. Never the less you can still recognise a great difference in the between them. Cornwell goes back to the Stranglers original sound with most of his tracks. The opening track, Tank, could easily fit on either of the two previous albums. Greenfield’s distinctive swirly keyboards play a great melody as Burnell’s powerful, charging bass dictates the song’s rhythm. Cornwell sings in his cynical sneering voice and finishes the song fantastically. Hey! and Sweden are also two other punkish songs that go back to the routs of the band.
Toiler the on Sea however, has a more progressive feel to it, the first two minutes being vocal-free, it allows the instrumental aspect of the band to show off a little more. Kicking off with a ferocious bass line and Greenfield’s superb synthesizers the band each contribute to the song and add a small part of their sound or style to the music. The lyrics are decidedly strange though, tales of sailing a ship through harsh seas work well with the unpredictable nature of the track.
Outside Tokyo is a slower, smaller, spaced out track that branches out into a more dynamic sound. Burnell runs along powerful minor scales, giving the track a sinister backing. Cornwell’s vocals are high up in the mix and are much more pronounced and forceful which makes the song sound eerie and mysterious, this is a nice brake from the punk sound of the other tracks which tend to lack depth or personality and end up sounding similar. But the best track on the White side is Nice ‘n’ Sleazy. As usual Burnell plays a great bass riff that varies all through the track. Jet Black plays a simple but striking drum riff that sets the slow paced feel of the song. Some people call the this track the birth of the elusive genre, white rap seeing as the vocals are a sung in a drawl that rhymes and follows a definite pattern. Greenfield also gets a main part in the track, he holds back in the verses and chorus until the end where he delivers a solo that jumps from side to side of the mix, until it pans into the middle where it ends amongst freaky, space age effects. The white side is definitely more mainstream and relates heavily to the traditional sound of the Stranglers. While in some parts in can sound a bit unoriginal there are some which are true classics songs
The black side starts off a great song, Curfew. Set in unusual 7/4 time it has an unpredictable nature that works well with the greatly contrasting verse and chorus. The Chorus and intros are smooth and polished but are abruptly interrupted by the harsh verse that bins the charming keyboards and brings in distorted synthesizers that sound like air raid sirens. The lyrics on here are probably the best on the album, talking of an apocalyptic war between Germany and England. Greenfield gets a rare vocal outing and sings well. Curfew is the best on its side because sadly the album goes on to hit an all-time low. First is Threatened which has many of the characteristics of The Stranglers of old, pumping bass line, jangly guitars, but lacks the energy and quality that made the Stranglers so good. For one Burnell sings absolutely terribly. He slurs his speech and sounds like a drunken five year old. The music is repetitive and the continual hitting of the snare really does your head in. I honestly can’t see what inspired the group to even record it as it really is that bad.
The next in this bad run of songs is slightly better; An experimental In The Shadows follows and slows the pace of the album right down. Burnell plays a bass riff that sounds like a primitive version of Time Is Running Out by Muse while Greenfield experiments with various keyboard and synthesizer effects. Musically the song is average but lyrically the song is appalling:
Walking On The Streets At Night
Turn Around And Die Of Fright
What's That In The Shadows
Is It A Dog
Is It A Cat
See what I mean? Thankfully the music isn’t as bad as the previous track so it’s bearable to listen to without making you lie down on the nearest motorway. Else where on this side thing are quite varied. Do You Wanna? Is raw an undoubtedly a prog punk song, Greenfield sings again with an accent that could belong to a dictator which suits the morale defining lyrics of the track. Death and Night and Blood is a song that will only suit in certain moods. The music is classic Stranglers but the lyrics are rather unique shall we say, basically don’t plan on eating while listing to this song as you may find yourself projectile vomiting. But just for a laugh and something funny to listen to this can fit the bill easily. Other than that Burnell’s voice can get annoying quick so you can expect to love or hate this depending on your mode. In Time is a rather average piece of music, like a better version of In The Shadows just with better lyrics. While The black side is worse than the other that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any good tracks. Curfew is a great track and would definitely feature in my top 10 songs by this band.
But what about the album as a whole? The White Side is top quality Stranglers material that’s nice and easy to listen to, The Black Side however, shows off the bands more experimental side and though some of it is sub-par, at also has a few good tracks that will warrant repeated listens listens.
The White Side
Easier to listen to
Nice ‘n’ Sleazy
Better if you want original sounding Stranglers music
Can be slightly repetitive
The Black Side
Shows the bands more experimental side
Some songs are truly terrible!!