Review Summary: Public school punks with English degrees. The Stranglers rode the British punk rock scene of the late '70s with a hint of parody and whole lot of style.
Out of all of the punk bands that rose to fame in the UK in the late '70s The Stranglers stand apart in a number of ways. Prior to their formation in 1974, degree educated lead guitarist and vocalist Hugh Cornwell had been playing the blues, drummer Jet Black was a jazz player and JJ Burnel was a classically trained guitarist who converted to electric bass. This isn't the basic recipe you would usually expect for the formation of a British punk act but after playing the pub rock scene for a few years their brand of jagged, angry music and scathing satirical wordplay propelled them sneering and cursing into the burgeoning UK punk rock scene.
The band's 1977 debut, the excellent 'Rattus Norvegicus', had spawned two hit singles and reached No.4 in the UK album charts so The Stranglers wasted no time in capitalising on their success and went back to the studio later in the year to record this follow up. What is most striking about early Stranglers music in contrast to most of their punk peers is the prevalence of Dave Greenfield's organ sounds. His rapid arpeggios and swelling rhythms, along with JJ's jagged bass lines, formed the core of The Stranglers distinctive sound during most of their punk phase. Album opener 'I Feel like a Wog' shows this to full effect with Greenfield's pumping organ riffs driving the song along in an urgent fashion forming a suitable backdrop for Cornwell's guttural vocals. The Stranglers always had the capacity to throw out a hit single or two throughout their varied career and this is evidenced on the punk-lite 'No More Heroes'. Greenfield is again the star contributor here and his wonderfully melodic main keyboard motif is obviously the reason why this particular song climbed the charts. He is busy throughout its entirety with his brisk arpeggios and lead fills. Not to be outdone, Cornwell treats us to some suitably abrasive rhythms and sneeringly laments the passing of such 'heroes' as Trotsky, Shakespeare and Sancho Panzer.
The Stranglers were often treated with an element of suspicion by the rabidly traditional Brit punk set of the times due in some part to their middle-class roots but also for their willingness to venture outside traditional musical structures from the outset. They could almost be described as an art rock band with punk attitude, especially when you listen to tracks such as the seven minute 'School Mam' with it's busy bass lines and choppy mutating guitar licks. The band would justify the 'mistrust' placed in them by branching out into new wave, europop and even flirting with progressive rock on later releases. But their willingness to adapt and explore certainly held them in good stead in the post-punk world and they went on to further successes during the '80s, at least within the confines of Europe. On this release, however, their toes were still firmly planted in the punk bedrock.