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