Brick by brick The Stranglers have been rebuilding the house that was knocked down by the 1990s, and in March the roof goes on with the release of Giants.
Galvanised by a new relationship with X Ray Touring, which took them to Glastonbury for the first time in 2010 and a phenomenal crowd on the Other Stage, alongside similarly successful turns at the likes of T in the Park and Benicassim, they’ve been making commercial faces at the window again.
The first album since 2006’s Suite XVI, which had to be re-shaped after singer Paul Roberts’ departure,Giants is the product of a four piece Stranglers, from conception to delivery, something not seen since 1990. Kicking off with a bluesy, bass ridden instrumentalAnother Camden Afternoon, the band has its edge back, and it’s much better fit with the multi million selling first incarnation than the forlorn five piece that followed.
Giants is driven by JJ Burnel. His signature bass lifts the 10 song set away from contemporary rock music’s endemically conservative mainstream, and his singing hasn’t been this versatile, or good, since the mid 1980s. From Freedom Is Insane, a gorgeous, sweeping successor to 1978’s Toiler On The Sea, to the caustic Time Was Once On My Side, where he delivers the lyric like an amphetamine Tom Waits behind aVicious riff, to Adios (Tango), sung in Spanish, he’s rejuvenated. And the impact on his compadres is telling.
For Lowlands, guitarist/fellow frontman Baz Warne marries a tale from the road to a bitching intro, Burnel’s bassline picking the track up towards the end and dumping it over the line. Mercury Rising has Warne doing a convincing Dave Greenfield vocal impression around the chorus, while one of the keyboard player’s typically fulsome fills takes the piece up another level.
There’s not much fat here. The title track drags its feet a bit, Boom Boom might have been better as a single B-side, and the jazzy My Fickle Resolve sounds samey, like Dutch Moon off 2004’s Norfolk Coast, otherwise though Giants is a great record. One that actually wouldn’t sound as good if Hugh Cornwell wasstill with the band. The trademarks are there, from front to (Jet) Black, but nobody’s playing it safe. In their heyday, risk was the fifth element of The Stranglers, on stage and in the studio, and that feeling is restored, kicking away the clichés rolled out by the Roberts era.
Time has been spent on the structure of the album, and it deserves to be listened to as a whole, fromCamden to 15 Steps, the snappy rocker that closes it, rather than torn apart by the diminished attention spans of the download generation. Bands like this won’t be around for ever, making records as good as this one, so pick up a copy of Giants, released on March 5, and give The Stranglers IV 40 minutes of your time.