Since their inception in 1974 The Stranglers have consistently provided a soundtrack for lovers of good solid rock. But their sound has always had an edge – a variety, a quirkiness, an ability to conjure magic from complex rhythms, that other bands would love to achieve.
New album Giants is a great illustration of this. Hearing it for the first time no-one could doubt this is The Stranglers, and yet the tracks seem utterly fresh, right from their first instrumental in more than 20 years, Another Camden Afternoon. You can just imagine them jamming as first one instrument, then another, takes the lead with a thumping bass line to hold it all together.
The current line up is Jet Black (drums), JJ Burnel (bass and lead vocals), Dave Greenfield (keyboards) and Baz Warne (guitar and lead vocals). They obviously decided back in 2006 they don’t actually need a frontman: JJ Burnel and Baz Warne share the vocal duties to admirable effect, relative newcomer Baz – he’s only been in the band for 12 years – providing the lighter tones to contrast with the JJ growl.
Those who thought that the band would never be great again after Hugh Cornwell left may have to think again, as this is a real cracker of an album. There are plenty of trademark Stranglers bass lines, keyboard runs and wild rhythms, and even a splendid tango – Adios, appropriately with Spanish lyrics. There isn’t a duff track, either, and it’s really tricky to pick the standouts. Freedom Is Insane (the longest track at 6m20s) starts out in deceptively gentle mood but then kicks off to become a driving, pulsing classic with the keyboards going wild. My Fickle Resolve is clever and charming with lyrics and a breathy vocal delivery reminiscent of Jarvis Cocker at his best.
The title track is great too, featuring some lovely bass lines and a particularly growly vocal with a sentiment that will resonate with many: “Once there were giants walking amongst us / now I have to deal with little men with little hearts.” Have The Stranglers become Grumpy Old Men? If they have, who can blame them, and they certainly aren’t spring chickens. Time Was Once On My Side would seem to confirm the diagnosis.
Lowlands is fast and funny, Boom Boom rather menacing, Mercury Rising a classic Stranglers track featuring howling guitars, distorted vocals and keyboard riffs. The closing track 15 steps is insanely catchy and almost guaranteed to have you dancing around the room. You have been warned.
Giants is much more fun than either Norfolk Coast or Suite XVI, their noughties albums, and suggests that you might want to check out their tour, just starting – there isn’t a track here that wouldn’t be brilliant live. And considering that Jet Black is now over 70 and they said the 2009 tour would probably be their last, you better make the most of it.