on 3 April 2009
BLACK AND WHITE IS NOT NEGATIVE, 3 April 2009
By NAROLC "NAROLC" (Brighton, UK) - See all my reviews
Black and White, the third album from The Stranglers, was released in 1978 close on the heels of its successful predecessor, No More Heroes. At this time, The Stranglers, largely on the strength of their virtuoso musicianship (Dave Greenfield, keyboards, came from a classically trained background with the piano and bass player, Jean-Jacques Burnel deployed a plectrum to augment his bass lines with equal proficiency on a fretless instrument) had established their credibility with a listening public already tired of the punk revolution that had, indirectly, provided their launch. The Stranglers were far too intelligent to be punks, their often-complex music was too rich to be categorised under such a shallow umbrella. New wave was arguably a better definition of the band's dynamism and energy, while their earliest music soon drew comparisons with The Doors, which were not unfavourable.
Black and White, with its iconic sleeve and black and white 'sides' is a concept album produced by a confident band at the peak of their powers. Track by track, the material is powerfully catchy beginning with 'Tank' on which Hugh Cornwell sings of his aspirations to own and drive his own tank. Next up, the source of considerable controversy for the band (who had strippers accompanying them onstage for live versions), 'Nice N' Sleazy,' with references to the Hell's Angels (a group of people the band were then trying to distance themselves from) and allegedly irritated Frank Sinatra. The characteristic symbiosis between Greenfield's keyboard arrangements and Burnel's idiosyncratic bass lines introduces the third track, 'Outside Tokyo,' and is evident throughout this quirky song about time and the whole album. 'Hey! (Rise of the Robots)' could be an Isaac Asimov story set to frantic music. Then, Sweden, a pacy, semi-autobiographical song from Hugh Cornwell who lived there while studying for his chemistry degree (a qualification he shares with Margaret Thatcher!) 'Toiler on the Sea' concludes the 'White' side in typical Stranglers fashion (most Stranglers albums contain one track that is considerably longer than the rest) being an up-tempo sea shanty of epic proportions.
The 'Black' side is fittingly darker in both tone and material, being largely the contributions of Jean-Jacques Burnel, in contrast to Hugh Cornwell's other side. Opening with the apocalyptic 'Curfew,' JJ shouts about martial law and civil war in post-nuclear age Britain. 'Threatened' follows pounding and builds like a misanthropic mantra. Then, 'Do You Wanna,' offers slogans before a bridge leads straight into the next track, 'Death and Night and Blood (Yukio),' which refers to Japanese author, Yukio Mishima who committed hara-kiri in 1970. 'In the Shadows' is, for me, the album's nadir, a creaky filler. Black and White concludes with 'Enough Time,' which lends credence to George Melly's description of The Stranglers as 'musical dada.' The men in black were sufficiently touched by Mr. Melly's well-meant opinion to write a song for him, 'Old Codger,' which he sang and recorded with the band. The track made it onto the B-side of their single 'Walk On By,' which, originally, was given away with vinyl copies of Black and White--a fascinating and bizarre LP that has aged well and reflects a time of maturity and musical development for The Stranglers.
After the disappointment of NO MORE HEROES (see unpopular review), BLACK AND WHITE comes across as a sharp poke in the eye and a firm boot up the arse. Demure it most certainly is not.
In LP form the concept made more sense: two contrasting musical dispositions on two sides of vinyl. As a cd, this stark duality becomes slightly diluted by the addition of bonus tracks. Nevertheless, it remains a superb piece of work. The same goes for the cover. It's a powerful reminder of how effective photographic media can be at it's most basic: overexposed negatives of four figures posing in a void, opaque and unreadable. The end result is both iconic and memorable.
It is perhaps a tad petty to point out that side one does not, in fact, equate to 'Black' as you might naturally expect. However, any such inconsequential musings are immediately blown away the moment TANK blasts through the speakers. Heavy, driving, almost grungy, the song never lets up and is a marvellous taster for things to come. The pseudo-reggaefied NICE AND SLEAZY is next up, keeping things light and energetic (and, of course, sleazy) but then the pace drops unexpectedly for OUTSIDE TOKYO, a waltz, complete with de-rigeur flat Cornwell vocal. Given a sharper edge, this gloomy song would not seem out of place on, y'know, the 'other' side...the darkside.
Hey, hey, whaddya say?...RISE OF THE ROBOTS almost speeds out of control with to and fro vocals battling jazzy sax and keyboards over ownership of the metronome. In sharp contrast, SWEDEN (ALL QUIET ON THE EASTERN FRONT), is a more focused and streamlined affair, even finding room in it's anti-tourist board sentiments for the words "cumulus nimbus" (a cute latin reference to clouds. Nice touch, Hugh). Honours for outstanding track, however, must go to TOILER ON THE SEA, a thumping epic which shows THE STRANGLERS at their knuckle-dusting best and brings the 'White' side to a close on a bloody big high.
Of course, every yin needs its yang, every Jeckyll his Hyde, every Cannon his, or its, Ball. And the 'Black' side (un)happily obliges in every department. Sometimes discordant, other times just plain disturbing, the mood swing is dramatic, almost bi-polar. CURFEW, THREATENED, IN THE SHADOWS...angry, brooding pieces of work challenging you to sing along, if you dare. The unpleasant DO YOU WANNA segues neatly into DEATH AND NIGHT AND BLOOD, another intense Burnel number which picks up the pace until we reach the final song, ENOUGH TIME. And by this time, believe me, it's time enough; a big, clanging bassline intro and the death-knell of repetitive keyboard and vocals makes for an unsettling descent into hell.
Fortunately, on this occasion, being seduced by the darkside comes with a return ticket.
VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
on 4 July 2013
As far as this album goes the title of my review is true. You'll either love it or hate it and I suspect that will apply to fans as well? As for me I love it, partly due to the fact that there are some Eno type influences lurking about somewhere 'in the shadows'. Forgotten which side is supposed to be which now (other than the colour of the CD inner) and don't suppose it really matters if you do not possess the original vinyl (I still have somewhere with the white 7" freebie), but tracks 7 to 11 seem to be the ones that will stick in your head so I suppose they are the black ones? Furthermore how can anyone not like the pseudo-reggae classic that is very 'Nice and Sleazy'? With the advent of CD the original freebie make an appearance, but Walk On By is still a waste of space! For those who are not sure which version of this CD I am referring to it is the first CD release as I understand variations abound. In the end though it matters not, just buy it! Finally, am I the only one who originally thought that on Toiler On The Sea they were actually singing 'toilet on the sea', or was I having a senior moment even at 21? 'Have you to got enough time' to even consider it though?
on 26 October 2014
Their third album, this consisted of 2 very different sides on original release, hence the title Black And White.
Possibly their most menacing sounding album it polarized public opinion at the time, and showed them moving away from the Punk of the earlier albums to a more progressive New Wave sound, which reached a peak on their next album and undisputed masterpiece The Raven.
Still a very, very good album, highly recommended, a must buy.
on 16 August 2011
This was a Christmas present from my mum & dad way back in 78 I don't think I've ever grown out of it . Musically they were head and shoulders above their contemporaries , this album proves it. The departure from punk to something more sophisticated and probably more instinctive. The first song 'tank' is a great opening track [especially that effect with the guitar that sounds like a gun being cocked] the trademark long last track 'toiler', they seem to always have a long end track on every album . Also good to see the additional tracks 'walk on by' [very doors influenced] and the very funny 'old codger' sung by Hughs' friend the outrageous George Melly. This is an album of two sides [as the title suggests]the white side and the black side [more apparent on vinyl] "do you wanna" and "death and night and blood" two very different songs that are segwayed in an imaginative way. An excellent album and a great band.
Mesmeric album still producing a solid punch into the midriff way into the 21stC with non exotic mixes of paranoia, sex, sleaze, philosophy, brutal maledom and a caustic sense of doused humour.
The Stranglers third and difficult album saw them shoot their artistic load high into the sky as a good punk should. Never deemed part of the punk rock cannon, they were too old, odd, antagonistic, mysogonist.
A collection of crafted brutality, missing the ever more bruising 5 minutes, a sonic glass shatterer in the damaged maledom mode of getting up close.
Burnel had his bass playing the lead, tickling the ribs, Greenfield rippling the mindwaves,Black banging his soles whilst Cornwell piles on the blood pressure. An outburst of cynicism bathed in anger.
Philosophy; the invention of Time a pull from Heidegger for Outside Tokyo,Threatened follows in a more sinister vibe. Death and Night and Blood brings Yukio Mishima to a young mind. Japan appears as somewhere bizarre for the first time. Tank, the muscles ripple to the vibrations on the mirror shades as the 19 year old puts it into a first gear and blasts the greatest road song ever into the night fields. Toiler on the Sea; 60's mindwarp for punk infested children, Dave Greenfield lets loose with weird analogue blasts. Walk on By a song to play to mum or dad showing the links to saccharine taste...oooo take that off...The Stranglers take away the heart ache of Dionne Warwick, strip the wistfulness and make it into a one finger salute to the ex girlfriend; punk rock love breaks.
Sleaze comes in the form of the sex fest, Nice and Sleazy - a juicy piece of music even now, a good enough to strip to byin the privacy of the bedroom along with the beast that lives within - In the Shadows.
Enough Time still ticks in the head especially when running for something always pulling out ahead.
Curfew and Sweden are cold war songs distilling the paranoia and ennui of the ice age. Life in the UK speeded up as the rest of Europe drifted into boredom. Perhaps why it existed first in the UK before it become a new European folk music.
The Stranglers placed a tourniquet around the 1970's with the cry that Something Better Change, hope beyond all reason it fractured the staid platform flares and feather cuts of the 70's replacing it all with short hair, DM's and straights, then out of the chaos everyone tumbled.
on 14 August 2015
This is a top class album that doesn't let up.
Starts off with the explosive Tank and that brilliant track leads into the Single , the Funky/Punky Nice and Sleasy, who can't forget that video! Also many other tracks, far too many too mention on this fabulous expanded disc, Sweden, Toiler on the Sea, In the Shadows. In my top 50 albums and probably the Best from the Guildford Four!
on 20 March 2003
This is a very strange "in between album." Some tracks (like "Tank") wouldn't sound out of place on the previous album, "No More Heroes", while others see the band pushing at the boundaries (e.g. "Outside Tokyo", "Enough Time"). From the first time I heard it (back in the late 70s) it always sounded to me like a strange collection of songs, and it still does when I listen today. Still for all the strangeness very good to listen to today: tracks like "Tank", "Nice N' Sleazy" and "Sweden" are terrific pop songs. "Toiler on the Sea" (always a great track when they did it live) has the sort of epic instrumental quality that follows in the steps of their earlier classic, "Down in the Sewer". This latest incarnation of the album also includes some bonus tracks from the period including the perfect interpretation of "Walk on By", and standard rock fare "Mean to Me" (very much in the style of "Go Buddy Go"). Curiosities include "Shut Up" and "Sverige" ("Sweden", sung in Swedish). Black & White is largely the forgotten album but deserves a listen for some classic Stranglers moments.
on 15 May 2004
A strange one.
For sure there are some outstanding tracks here (Nice n Sleazy, Sweden and Death and Night and Blood among others) but the overall effect is a bit flat, as the music is dark, brooding and not a little depressing. Whether you can attribute this to lack of inspiration or the temptation to reject the predictability of building on the commercialism of No More Heroes is a point of debate, I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between.
That said the best of the album is extremely rewarding and packs an almighty punch, and really every self respecting guitar pop fan should own at least the first seven studio albums by this great and influential band.
on 27 April 2014
Played this to death when I was 14, still sounds great 34 years later, God is it that long ago.