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PostPosted: Wed Jun 22, 2011 11:26 am 
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Location: Welsh border country
Here's something I wrote about Black And White a few years ago:

***

There is something about this album – some combination of grit and sweat, of synthesizer and melody and rumbling bass, of scratchy fuzz-loaded guitars and metronomic drumming – that makes it special. Released at the back end of the punk explosion, the almost three decades since its appearance have done nothing to reduce its impact. It seems to be from no particular time, have no particular set of references. It appalls and enthrals in equal measure.

I remember listening to the album under the bedsheets. John Peel played it in its entirety on his wireless show.

The Stranglers were swept along by the punk phenomenon, but they were hardly punks. The first two albums, culled from their live repertoire, were edgy, science-fictional songs with lashings of Doors-style organ and twitchy guitars - and of course Jean-Jacques Burnel’s rumbling bass (which acquired its distinctive sound because of a faulty amplifier speaker). But nothing in those two albums prepared the listener for the third album, Black And White. This album to this day stands alone as a quite brilliant work of gothic futurism, like some hellish report from a dark, alternative future.

The opener, Tank, is a full-blooded meditation on the possibilities of owning this item of warfare. Nice’n’ Sleazy follows – it was the first single – with its bizarre, bubbling keyboard solo. Outside Tokyo is one of many Stranglers’ waltzes, and then we are into the stark Sweden with its images of Cold War borders and interesting skies. The production of these two tracks are marvellous; tender and brooding at the same time.

Hey! Rise Of The Robots is a strange little tune, and then we are into the majesty of Toiler On The Sea, surely one of this band’s most remarkable songs. Musically it allows them to shine – no punk band, not even The Damned, could be this good – as a series of riffs and melodies whirl around the listener’s mind. The lyrics – all fog and lost ships – are the stuff of science-fictional nightmare. A unique track that to this day sends shivers down my spine.

So much for the White Side of the album. Yet this side is dark, so dark. What of the Black Side?

Curfew, with its 7/4 time signature, is a freakish evocation of future social meltdown: governments falling, population shifting away from England. The brutal Threatened is as twisted as a David Lynch film – perhaps ‘Eraserhead’ – with a fantastic vocal from Jean-Jacques Burnel. Great keyboards, too.

Then we are into Do You Wanna and Death And Night And Blood, which show once again the musical genius of these four men (and their producers, Martin Rushent and Alan Winstanley, who must have some compelling tales to tell) as these tracks segue into each other. In The Shadows is almost dubby in its nightmare sonic landscape, while the simultaneously hopeful and hopeless Enough Time closes the album.

I know of very few albums so unique, so out of their time, so brooding and so masterful as Black And White. It is almost a concept album. The combination of Hugh Cornwell’s guitar sound and Jean-Jacques Burnel’s bass give the music a tourniquet-tight intensity unmatched by similar bands. Jet Black’s drumming is a perfect foundation, while Dave Greenfield’s weird synths make the album shine with malevolent light. This album will stand forever as the masterpiece of the band.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 23, 2011 8:35 am 
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Really enjoyed reading that, Steve, and totally agree with you. Lyrically I always enjoyed the dark humour running through their songs which adds an additional edge. In "Threatened", the line 'man killed by falling tree', the casual violence in "Tank" ('maim, maim'), the mixed-up chorus in "Hey", the morse code at the end of "Enough Time" (can't remember it exactly, but along the lines of 'help, this is planet earth, we are f*cked'), and the 'Is it a dog, is it a cat?' exchange during "In The Shadows". They were such a disparate bunch of individuals and I think this was reflected in the music. True mavericks even whilst being one of the most commercially successful bands of that era.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 23, 2011 5:15 pm 
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Joined: Tue Mar 06, 2007 11:22 am
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Location: Glasgow
"The government's fled to Scotland today."

Yup, some album. In fact, their first five are pretty experimental to a large degree. They more-or-less stopped using science-fictional lyrics at the same time as they moved into soft rock.

Hugh Cornwall's just had a novel published but I don't know much about it yet. From what I've read on his site, I think it's mainstream.

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