Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Stranglers - Black and White

Welcome to another edition of Seventies Sunday.

Today (May 12th) marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the release of Black and White, the third studio album from the UK punk band the Stranglers from 1978. The album went Gold in the UK where it climbed all the way to number 2.

The line-up for the band at this stage was Jet Black on drums and percussion, J.J. Burnel on bass and vocals, Hugh Cornwell on guitar and vocals, and Dave Greenfield on keyboards and vocals.

Side one (the “white side”) begins with “Tank”, a song that is set to an up-beat tempo about driving a military weapon. I like the contrasting of the keyboard melodies with the explosion sound effects.

As a single, “Nice ‘n’ Sleazy” went to number 18 on the UK charts. The keyboard effects are very cool here, bouncing from channel to channel.

“Outside Tokyo” has a bit of a calliope sound going on in the background. The lyrics speak to the amount of things being produced in Japan and imported to the rest of the world.

“Sweden (All Quiet on the Eastern Front)” knocks the Scandinavian country as being dull and too quiet. They say that the only thing to do is to watch the clouds go by. I like how the rhythm gets faster and faster as the song progresses.

“Hey! (Rise of the Robots)” features guest saxophonist Lora Logic, who played with the 70’s punk bands Essential Logic and X-Ray Spex. This song about automated manufacturing taking over is like ska on steroids - very manic but at the same time kind of fun.

“Toiler of the Sea”, clocking in at close to five and a half minutes, closes out the side. The extra space gives the band time to really explore instrumentally before Cornwell comes in on the vocals. My favorite part is Greenfield’s underlying piano parts which gives the song a mash-up of classical meets punk.

Side two (the “black side”) opens with “Curfew”. Brunel adopts a bit of a thick accent for his vocals on this one, forcing you to really listen to try to decipher what he is saying about people living under a tight military clamp down.

“Threatened” hooked me right in with a pong-ponging percussion. Lyrically, though, it is a little bit “out there”.

“Do You Wanna” is the only track on the album where Greenfield took lead vocals. I found it to be a little bit “out there” as well. It runs right into the next track pretty seamlessly.

“Death and Night and Blood (Yukio)” features a chanting of the title as an answer to the verse “calls”.

On “In the Shadows”, Cornwell’s even toned delivery of the vocals works well with this whole tune about walking the darkened city streets alone at night.

“Enough Time” closes the original album with an interesting blend of guitars and synthesizers.

The first 75,000 copies of the original vinyl album also came with a three song EP. It included:

- “Walk On By”, a cover of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David classic that first topped the charts in 1964 when recorded by Dionne Warwick. They give this one a bit of a dark and sinister attitude with a bit of Doors feel thanks to the keyboards. With six and a half minutes, they have plenty of time for instrumental solos too.

- “Mean to Me”, a re-recorded version of a song the band first recorded when under the name of Celia and the Mutations, with singer Celia Golin. I like its throwback connection to the early days of rock. They pack a lot in under two minutes.

- “Tits”, a live recording from the Front Row Festival at Hope and Anchor. The blues influenced song has a bit of a tongue-in-cheek humor to it.

I found Black and White to be an interesting listen. I especially liked the tracks on the EP, which later showed up on CD releases of the album as well. I certainly enjoyed this one by the Stranglers over Feline which I reviewed at the beginning of the year (click here for that review).

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