A Multitude Of Sins: The Autobiography
HarperCollins ISBN 0 00 719082 4
This was one book I was really looking forward to reading this year.
Unfortunately I was left wondering who Hugh Cornwell really was.
And this was his autobiography!
As leader of outrageous former punk protagonists The Stranglers, Hugh was a formidable front man. A stream of quirky hit songs gave the one time most despised band in the world a successful career above and beyond fellow new wavers long-since fallen by the wayside. For me. The Stranglers were the best band in the world - and Hugh's atonal vocals chords were responsible for the hits Peaches, the anthemic No More Heroes and the snarling Nice 'n' Sleazy, as well as anodyne Golden Brown, which reached Number 2 in the UK charts in 1982.
Sixteen years on, (with three years shaved off in the back jacket inner) after a total of ten hit studio albums and over twenty hit singles, Hugh left the band in 1990. It followed a lacklustre live performance that I was (un)fortunate enough to witness at Alexandra Palace in North London. Like Hugh, I had also sussed something was not right on the night. While The Stranglers plodded on sans Hugh, Mr. Cornwell has quietly pursued a lower league solo career. But fourteen years on, evidence of the bitter acrimony existing between the two camps is well documented to this day.
Hugh is a gifted and creative artist. He was always sharp and acerbic, and although he was no hard man, he provided the threatening, the brooding jagged edge to The Stranglers menace. His famed onstage quips were omnipresent from the late 70s until the mid 80s. In my huge Stranglers collection I have a multitude of live recordings smattered with his dry humour and bad jokes. In press interviews he came across as a highly intelligent character keen to explain his weltanschauung to the world.
As an avid record collector of many styles, I bought everything the band ever released, yet Hugh's guitar lines were the cleverest, most angular. His nasal vocal tones are still instantly recognisable today - it is claimed that Golden Brown is being played somewhere in the world at any one moment.
So, as you can see - I relished the chance to read 'A Multitude Of Sins' to find out his life before, during and since The Stranglers.
However, having just put the book down, I must confess that I know even less about the man than I did before.
Which wasn't much in the first place.
There was no evidence of Hugh's personality, only a small peak into his music biz persona. Little wit, no hint of hurt, no insight - nothing that explains what makes this man tick. No tetchiness, no anger, no warmth, only a hint of intelligence and just one joke. And a very, very bad one at that. The back cover spiel hints at the backdrop of drug dependency and in-fighting, but juicy anecdotal snippets are just sanguinely breezed over with all the emotion of a bank statement.
Then suddenly you come across the "CUT TO HERE..." and the "CUT TO THERE..." segments that are evidence of lazy writing. These are minutaie-free, bland, dull recalls of past moments in time, randomly pasted in. The only sin in multitude was the never-ending name-dropping of minor celebrities made my eyes glaze over several times. "I did this with him, or I did that with her, he came over to me at this restaurant, and then I took some of that..."
Fans like me will get hold of it undoubtedly if they haven't already, and it will sell lots. But Stranglers anoraks will not learn anything new here. Only brief overviews. But once you have read it, I would strongly recommend checking out The Stranglers 'No Mercy: The Authorised And Uncensored Biography' by David Buckley (Hodder & Stoughton) - followed by 'Song By Song' by Hugh Cornwell & Jim Drury (Sanctuary).
Somewhere between the three books probably lies the truth.
Perhaps even some of the real Hugh Cornwell. You never know!