Always an incendiary live proposition but latterly a lame duck in the recording studio, punk vets the Stranglers have drawn breath and duly re-emerge having given themselves a collective leathery kick up the backside. Norfolk Coast
is the rather exceptional result, a record that finds the "Meninblack" the unlikely beneficiaries of renewed music industry confidence (they've re-signed to EMI) and quite possibly qualifies as their finest album in two decades. Indeed, at times, thanks to the fresh powerhouse clarity of Mark Wallis and Dave Ruffy's contemporary production, old times seem rendered anew.
Jean-Jacques Burnel's pernicious bass snarl and Dave Greenfield's swirling, lysergical keyboard embellishments rank higher in the band's priorities than at any time since 70s classics such as "No More Heroes" or "Black and White" while new guitar recruit (and active song contributor) Baz Warne and singer Paul Roberts darken the mood with an economical but disquieting relish.
Suicide, psychosis, crime-of-passion, bereavement, self-immolation and extra-terrestrial intervention is familiar topical ground but the songs rediscover the pop quirkiness that has kept pieces such as "Always the Sun", "Peaches" and "Golden Brown" evergreen in the public consciousness. To this effect, "Big Thing Coming", "Lost Control", the bouncing Iraqi WMD protest of "I Don't Agree" and the self-effacing mischief of "I've Been Wild" (a look back at some of the band's pugnacious altercations with the rock literati) are full-on radio-friendly pop rockers. Gentler, jazzier moments such as "Dutch Moon" and "Sanfte Kuss" (featuring Levellers' fiddler Jon Sevink) and the sullen intrigue of "Long Black Veil" reconfirm the band's breadth of vision.
Norfolk Coast generates a rationality, a vigour and a melodic proclivity that may undermine the bunker mentality of those who persist in sanctifying the early albums with Hugh Cornwell. Frankly, those who thought the Stranglers had already written all their greatest songs may well have to think again. --Kevin Maidment
Faced with the new album by a band who were in the vanguard of punk, have lost their charismatic lead singer and guitarist and whose last major hit was in 1990you may find yourself feeling a little edgy. All right and proper, until you realise that this is an album by a band who, after many years in the rock wilderness, have returned to a major label. And as we all know, NO major label spends a dime on any band that they don't think will give 'em a good return for their diminishing funds. In this case EMI were right.
In recent interviews leader Jean Jacques Burnel has been typically honest about the time it's taken for even the staunchest of Stranglers fans to finally get over the loss of Hugh Cornwall and accept Baz Warne and Paul Roberts as bona fide members. Since 1992 sheer bloody-mindedness has kept the three original members going and it's finally paid off. Norfolk Coast is, believe it or not, a very fine album indeed.
From the opening Fender Precision rumble and keyboard ostinato intro to the title track, it's as though the band are brazenly declaring their resistance to fashion. What then stops the album being a sad recreation of former glories is the quality of the songwriting.Dave Greenfield's organ technique may not have changed one iota, but in the context of the material it fits perfectly. The years in the wilderness just mean that the band are even tighter and, amazingly, still sound as hungry and dangerous as if they were back at the Vortex in 1977.
Both Burnel and Roberts sing, with Burnel adding a more menacing edge. Warne's guitar is jagged and in yer face while Jet Black's drumming doesn't even hint at his advancing years. Often accused of too much macho swagger, the songs show diversity and sophistication. Whisper it, but ''Dutch Moon'' even approaches an area marked 'jazz'.
Despite their hits of old appearing in numerous adverts it'll take some kind of marketing miracle to convince the masses to take the band back to their hearts, but long time fans will appreciate that this is a dark, brooding album, with many a trick up its sleeve. For the rest of us; don't be scared, the boys are back... --Chris Jones
Find more music at the BBC This link will take you off Amazon in a new window