Review Summary: A well crafted debut album that is drenched in attitude, most of it bad, cranium splitting bass lines, brilliant song writing and eh chauvinism.
Dark, edgy, angular, masculine and very confrontational.
The Stranglers were always outsiders in the UK punk scene; this was mainly attributed to the members age and use of a keyboard (an instrument considered highly unfashionable in the late 70s). Their reputation was hardly positive; accusations of chauvinism, heavy drug use, violent behaviour towards other bands and journalists and sexual deviancy. Many of theses points were embellished, many were factual. However, their debut album is one that demonstrates, unlike many of their peers in 1977, the Stranglers were skilled musicians and songwriters. Keyboard aside they had more of a punk attitude then many other acts. Even if a lot of the hype was fictional they were a band that made great music.
Rattus Norvegicus, (the Latin name for the rats responsible for the plague) is an outstanding album. It has aged well and the dexterity of all four band mates is clear through out. If it comes in the form of Hugh Cornwell’s psychedelic guitar licks, which shows prominence in ‘Down In The Sewer’. JJ Burnel’s fantastically deep and pumping bass lines and Dave Greenfield’s swirling keyboard. The band is a tight unit throughout. Evidently clear in ‘Hanging Around’. The bands song writing ability also puts them above the verse-chorus-verse-chorus ilk of their peers. For example ‘Down In The Sewer’ has more in common with the song structure of a progressive rock composition, rather than your average punk song. The song writing is angular on many other numbers, focusing on crescendos and a healthy use of dynamics.
The whole album bristles with a menacing aura that suggests violence. The first line on opener ‘Sometimes’ is ‘Sometimes I want to smack your face’, for God sake. This is repeated in ‘Ugly’ with the protagonist regretting strangling his girlfriend to death. This song also features the classic one liner ‘An ugly fart gets a good looking chick if he’s got money’ (insert Hugh Hefner or Peter Stringfellow joke here).
‘Peaches’, arguably their most famous anthem, has one of the most recognisable bass lines in history and showcases the bands skill for mixing controversy with humour. This song was the reason they were branded chauvinists, due to its theme of admiring bronzed female figures on summer beaches. Spurious libel, as what straight man does not look at women on the beach? Calling a band chauvinistic for this is pretty crass. However, it added to the hype and gave the band a healthy dose of publicity. Especially as the song entered the top 10 in the UK single charts.
Like many other punk bands of the time the Stranglers were also great at reflecting angst. Whether it’s in ‘London Lady’ which emulates the falseness and superficial attitude of music journalists. ‘Sometimes’ and ‘Ugly’; relationship problems and sexual self consciousness or ‘Hanging Around’ a sideways look at adolescent hood in big cities.
This album is perhaps one of the Stranglers greatest in that it reflected their malevolent attitude towards life. The songs are much rawer than their later polished and poppier material. It cleverly fits in the punk ethos of doing things for yourself and showing no concern of what others thought. How many other punk acts would have been brave enough to have a keyboard or experiment with different song structures? In a time that was made of two minute long, amphetamine fuelled numbers the Stranglers clearly stood above the rest with attitude, nous and a fantastic aptitude for musicianship.