17 October 2013

The Stranglers - No More Heroes

Clearing my throat here, because hard as it may seem, The Stranglers are in essence NOT a punk band. They did start out at the time of the Punk Age, and ex frontman Hugh Cornwell did have on offer some slightest deft touch in his guitar playing but to me, what sets them apart from the likes of the Damned, Ramones et al is the extra flavouring introduced in Dave Greenfield's keyboard work. I was about three years old when I first heard No More Heroes and just loved the latter's tinkling of the electronic ivories as well as his "edgy" vocals in a time when the first punk wave had receded and there wasn't much else on the radio. However, as I was to discover later, there was more to it than just their individual talents.

One Stranglers story I like was when they were playing a gig and an audience member was caught hurling missiles onto the stage during their performance, so they grabbed the assailant and started using his bare buttocks as Tom Toms! As I said earlier, Cornwell is no longer with The Stranglers, he left in 1990 when he felt his creative boundaries with them had been pushed to the edge. One music critic once summed up the Guildford act as "initially ill-mannered yobs-come-churning out supreme pop delights, their music might be crude and ugly, but it was never boring."

No More Heroes from 1977 was released hot on the heels of their debut album Rattus Norvegicus and sets the tone with some menace and vulgarity which I'll explain a little later on this page. The title track gives mentions of Marxist Leon Trotsky, a Don Quixote character called Sancho Panza as well as outspoken comedian Lenny Bruce and Shakespeare. But there's a suggestion of blatant political incorrectness with I Feel Like A Wog which if you delve into the lyrics and ignore Burnell's sharp basswork (difficult to do, I know) is a disguised stab at the racism and right wing tensions that was prevalent back then. Other not so easy issues tackled are Dagenham Dave which tells of a tragic ending of a drug abuser friend as well as Bring On The Nubiles which is a no-holds-barred Lolita-esque tale with some hallucinogenic acoustics and overproduced and spooky backing vocals. Burnell takes the lead with Bitching, Something Better Change and Burning Up Time, they're as good as album fillers ideally if not quite as thought provoking.

Greenfield takes over with his distinctive keys and vocals with Peasant In The Big Shitty, which seem to be structured in The Time Warp style and suggests a freak out drugs binge. As with most of side one, it doesn't fail to get my attention, but then, things take another really interesting spin with the Cornwell led School Mam, it's strictly lyrical and feels like a chilling prequel of Police's Don't Stand So Close To Me. On the 1996 digital remaster, there's a couple more pleasing delights, like the dexterous bass on Straighten Out, the Stoner-type and slightly punkier Five Minutes and NMH is rounded off by what sounds like Greenfield performing neurosurgery on Artoo Detoo with Rok It To The Moon and possibly their most pop-ish track.

On the whole I find absolutely staggering, especially with what was on offer in the mid 1970s when punk was taking precedence over many things musically. Social and sometimes caustic commentary mixing it with the occasional guitars and keyboarding which makes it deceivingly inviting to the ear. Also worth noting that not many rock acts, save Queens Of The Stone Age can boast three separate lead singers all with their own insouciance and imitable stylings. Compared with these days albums, from which I hope you'll understand my reasoning, No More Heroes is a blueprint for how such a record should be laid out.

9 out of ten. Almost perfect...almost.

Buy the album here on Amazon
Listen to No More Heroes here on Deezer
Official Facebook page of The Stranglers here
Stranglers Official Website here

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