IF YOU haven't bought a Stranglers album since the days of Hugh at the helm, then do yourself a favour and buy Suite XVI.
True, The Stranglers might be basking in their `reissues' twilight, it's also safe to say the likelihood of replicating the fame (and infamy)of punk's halcyon days is very remote: their early success formed part of the mercurial punky zeitgeist, spawning a string of no-nonsense Top 10 singles in the late 70's. And what 80's compilation will let you forget the dreamy waltz-time Golden Brown?
But when your main man and inspiration Hugh Cornwell walks on you out at the start of the 90's, carrying on is always tough. But carry on they did - with Paul Roberts, a front man human dynamo. Enter the wilderness years... But Stranglers fans are a loyal breed, desperately clinging on in the vain hope of reclaiming a return to form, while many questioned the mic-swinging front man in the wake of guitarist/vocalist Hugh. 2004's Norfolk Coast came closest, and while Paul finds his voice, it's success was attributable to the arrival of guitarist Baz Warne (ex-Toy Dolls, Smalltown Heroes): he injected a welcome shot in the arm, and a welcome song writing foil for bassist JJ Burnel. As Paul finds his vocal footing, he too leaves, matching his predecessor's 16 years service. Hugh 16 years... Paul 16 years... 16th album?
"What shall we call it? I know, Suite XVI!!!"
But seriously folks - The Stranglers are reborn (again!). Back to a classic four-piece line-up, they not only sound like The Stranglers (after going over Paul's vocal track) - they look like The Stranglers too! And what's more, the double-barrelled guitar-weilding force of creation (that's JJ and Baz to you)are the new vocalists.
Thanks must surely go to Baz man: effortlessly retreading the dead-pan Hugh path of snarling, leering lead vox with a tone not dissimilar to The Damned's Dave Vanian. But it's fitting - and totally Stranglers. The re-dubbed tracks show off his devilishly good voice, but it provides a welcome return of JJ's singing too, not only on the whispery Don't Bring Harry-style numbers like Anything Can Happen, but also on the belting screamer - Sommat Outta Nothing - a growling beast with a Beach Boys twist of a chorus, which further showcases the bassist's new weapon - a custom-built Shuker bass - modelled on his famous Fender Precision of old. Hence, the bass end cuts through with modern roundness and a twangfull top-end, reminiscent of the glory days circa 77-78; the twang's the thang.Awesome.
Baz's crisp Telecaster is still there like Norfolk Coast, as is Greenfield's burbling fairground organ... But if Norfolk Coast was their renaissance, Suite XVI is where The Stranglers found their mojo.
Opener Unbroken bursts with fun-metal hooks and craftiness. The line where an offer to wear suspenders is hlarious; these guys are having fun! And why shouldn't they - this is catchy and commercial, with an intelligent arrangement and clean production crying out `hit' - and not out of place on Xfm Radio.
The single, The Spectre of Love shows Radio 2 pop sensibility with enough catchiness and charming intrigue to recapture even the most wayward fan. Fascinatingly dark themes are still there: there's love and war, Black Death, anger and death, and more death in She's Slipping Away - a true-life Orpheus In The Underworld tale.
Hatred comes courtesy of I Hate You, as you would expect from the title, although this is one might take me more than a few listens to get used to. Having said that, it would probably fare well on Radio 2 with it's mock Country n Western feel. Soldier's Tale has a gripping chorus: 'I can't feel my legs' mmm... You Won't See Me Coming hails from JJ's Japanese manga anime sound track, Gankatsuou, here sounding superior with all Stranglers on board. Anything Can Happen showcases all the Stranglers MOR elements all in one; hints of Too Precious off 1986's Dreamtime album , as well as European Female from Feline (1983).
Eerie end track Relentless is sinister territory not visited since Sometimes, the opener of their first album, Rattus Norvegicus: the cycle is complete, and there's life in these old dogs yet. Suite XVI is a tour de force... prepare to enter the Twilight Zone!