I'll state my position unequivocally: 'Stranglers IV : No More Heroes' is, after 'Stranglers IV (Rattus Norvegicus)', the best album the band ever made. It's better than 'Black and White', better than 'The Raven', better than 'Meninblack'...and why? Because its genesis lies in the same period of songwriting, touring and living-in-each-others-pockets during the mid -70s that spawned the sublime 'Rattus' and because it was recorded by Martin Rushent and Alan Winstanley, who understood that all they needed to do was capture the finest British rock group of all time in flight, playing together, then add a little sheen....
'No More Heroes' reeks of speed. It's an unforgiving, evil, rasping record, without patience or pity or light, but a record is that nonetheless shot through with humour, elan and martial-arts precision, an album that celebrates the 'Crisis? What Crisis?' state of Britain in 1977, revelling in the blackness of its social setting, dripping with misanthropy and hatred, yet at the same time saying that there is a way to survive Punk Rock UKs awful grimness - and that way was through the expression of vibrant, life-affirming energy. And there's the rub, friends...even at their harshest, The Stranglers offered a positive alternative : while they acknowledged the darkness of our country at the time, they showed that there was a way forward, that the electrical spirit of their angry psychedelia was enough to get us through to better times. 'No More Heroes' may be a hymn to nihilism, but it's also a realists' album - for we all know that despite the blackness that often settles over our lives, there are still blessings to count and that sometimes, kicking against the pricks is enough to get us through.
'No More Heroes' has always suffered in comparison to its predecessor for one reason: it lacks the gravitas the nine-song 'Rattus' owns simply because it is comprised of eleven tracks. 'Heroes' also lacks an 'epic' of the musical stature of 'Down in the Sewer', 'Toiler on the Sea', 'Hallow to our Men' or 'Too Precious'. But what 'No More Heroes' possesses above all other Stranglers albums is a sonic sheen of chromium colour, a multihued spatter of tonal shades created by deft engineering and clever use of guitar pedals and effects - there are flangers at play plus much more synthesizer than the previous album, Dave Greenfield taking two lead vocals, wah-wah pedal on the organ on 'Dagenham Dave', the result being that the aural breadth of 'No More Heroes' exceeeds that of 'Rattus'. Instrumentally, the band were rarely better and the tone colours the instruments were given here are, for me, the definitive 'signature sounds' of the bands' instruments. I'll be honest, as much as I love 'Rattus', with its superior, brooding and heavier songs, I wish it sounded like 'Heroes'.
Acid is scattered all over the recording - Cornwell's guitar is a lysergic monster, the unholy offspring of Lou Reed and Robbie Krieger, marrying abrasive amphetamine quirk with off-the-wall lysricism and a threatening, nauseatingly twisted expressive ness that is pure Cornwell - perverse, lecherous, dangerously logical, given to bouts of mean-temperedness and scientific objectivity that borders on the Lewis Carrollian. Greenfield's keyboards sound like nothing else before or since - and if you think he sounds like Manzarek, listen again - just because both were technically more gifted than most keyboardists you were used to hearing don't mean they were the same. Greenfiekd was always more prog, always striving more to steer clear of the blues than Manzarek, for all his genius, ever was. I know it's only a Hammond, a Yamaha Piano and a Moog, but how did he get that metallic sheen on the Yamaha in particular? These are keyboards with attack. In a lesser band, Greenfield would have been dominant, but then The Stranglers were a band in the true sense - nothing extraneous, all important, no-one there just for the ride.
Then there's the bass. Yes, we all know about that bass - in an age of great bassists (Karn, Adamson, Weber), Burnel beat them all. He took a moribund instrument that in most cases was there just for the sake of it and turned it into a religion. Without ever getting funky, without ever having a dull sound that could have issued from anyone's speakers, without ever being a cliche. And why? because he played the bass as if it really mattered and with the understanding that it wasn't there just to play a role, but to lead, just as a guitar or an organ can. Drums - well, Jet's at his most seductive here, in the pocket, swinging, 'Dead Ringer' rocking 'No More Heroes', tribally pounding 'School Mam', like a meteor 'Burning Up Time'. That jazz sensibility comes through just enough...
I could go on and on about the songs, analyse them, explain them, demystify them, talk them up, but I won't. I'll finish by saying this, instead : 'No More Heroes' was the anthem of the age, a sentiment that still rings true, more relevant now than ever before, a resounding judgement upon the state of Western Culture and the glory of our ability to dominate the world through Enlightenment and Romantic reaction, to disgust ourselves and yet revel in out glory. For every 'Nubiles' there is an 'English Towns', for every 'School Mam' a 'Bitching', for every 'Dead Ringer', a 'Burning Up Time'. We love, we despise, there's no time for compromise. We watch our Rome burn. In 'No More Heroes', The Stranglers clarified for us our legacy as Europeans and sophisticates - it is the ultimate Romantic statement, at once world-wweary and boiling with life - tragic, funny, brutal, lustful and heartfelt. There may have been no love in a thousand girls and the towers they built may been of saddenned ivory, but at least we had The Stranglers to make the gritty reality of our lives at the time into Art. There can surely be no greater praise.
Both the single and album, 'No More Heroes,' were eagerly gobbled up by punk fans already familiar with the band's exhilarating mix of brutal bass and keyboard runs. While the single gained a unanimous thumbs-up as did the other hit, 'Something Better Change,' the album took some criticism for being a pale rehash of The Stranglers' debut effort. In truth, some of the lyrical content is too obviously rude for the sake of it, but the band still had some imaginative ideas, notably 'Dead Ringer,' 'Dagenham Dave,' and 'Burning Up Time.' 'School Mam,' which finishes the album, is almost vaudevillean, if tasteless. Bonus tracks bolster the album, however. The cannibalistic vision, 'Straighten Out,' is a superb b-side, while both sides of the inexplicably forgotten hit, '5 Minutes' are also here. Not quite as good as most of their other albums, 'No More Heroes' is nevertheless well worth acquiring.