Giants by The Stranglers – Album Review

EiTC Reviews The Stranglers new Album ‘Giants’

Gargantuan… 

A new Stranglers album is always going to create a lot of interest. And album number 17 ‘Giants’ is doing just that. The internet is buzzing with anticipation. Early reviews are largely favourable (for good reason!) which is promising! Fansinblack are itching to get their paws on this latest offering. There’s even an anxious whisper that this may be a parting shot from the Men in Black (Does this mean Adios?)

After much anticipation a promo copy landed on my doormat a few days ago and here is my early attempt at getting a grip on Giants!

On first listen there is an unknown quality that’s almost hard to get. Fans will be familiar with that feeling, after all this is The Stranglers; the strange and unknown are to be expected and relished! So let’s establish, this album is not instant, it’s a grower! And in places it’s a growler too!

Okay, so I’ve listened to the CD in 5 different environments now; Studio monitors, High end PC monitors (x 2 i.e. home/work), MP3 player and the car stereo. And the good news is that it plays well in all these places. And it sounds good at modest levels or cranked (sorry neighbours…). Other reviews and the band themselves have alluded to a raw feeling on the production of this album and they’re not kidding! Favouring feeling over polish whilst not sacrificing any of the sonic delight, the album evokes memories of the first clutch of albums with a recorded live/minimal overdubs essence to it. There are also nods to the later albums in places.

On to the songs:

Instrumental ‘Another Camden afternoon’,  comes in with a bluesy intro and understated bass before opening out into classic Stranglers territory with catchy guitar licks, growling bass and onto a slow build on the keyboard (a great Hammond sound, or is it actually a Hammond Mr Greenfield?) and a rock solid beat. This tune originally had lyrics but they have been omitted as the band thought it stood up better as an instrumental. The backing vocals remain in what I presume to be the chorus but will we ever get to hear it with the lyrics? Verdict instant gratification!

‘Freedom is insane’ is the track most fans will be familiar with from recent live shows. This songs atmospheric introduction starts with waves and gentle cymbals (slightly reminiscent of ‘Riders on the storm’), on to a slow melodic build. Then it kicks in to the main thrust of the song, which for me is somehow evocative of the classic Toiler on the Sea. This song is ‘insanely’ catchy, with a fantastic keyboard solo (a tasteful nod towards ‘Walk on by’) and a cool Stranglers style Spaghetti Western lead guitar. JJ sings his heart out on this one, easily ranking as one of his better vocal performances.

The opening bars of title track ‘Giants’ has a feel evocative of the first couple of albums (keyboard in particular). JJ takes it down a notch vocally, his trademark spoken vocal style maturing into more of a Leonard Cohen style delivery, which is very nice once you’ve given it room to grow. Never has mellow sounded so menacing!

Lowlands gets better with every listen with its punky guitar intro and its tricky timing it takes a while to get it.  The unison run between the instruments is beautifully crafted and most effective. There is a persistent driving feel to the main verse riff that is really pertinent to the ‘life on the road’ theme of the song, very effective!

‘Boom boom’ comes across as a very catchy pop song, with a tip of the hat to 1978 lyrically “…move the Grey to Black and White”. Nice fairground organ, a jaunty pop song with a perky beat. And a great downward progression on the bridge.

‘My Fickle Resolve’ highlights the Spartan production but doesn’t suffer for it, kicking off with a melancholic reverberated bass melody that sticks like superglue. This jazzy piece is catchier than the common cold with echoes of ‘Dutch Moon’. Jet has some subtle brush work going on here. I fell for this one as soon as I heard it on its live debut. Baz’s voice shines on this one. Dave’s closing keyboard run is pure class! This song is sweetly melancholy with hidden depths!

‘Time was once on my side’ definitely sounds better on the album itself than the radio broadcasts we were treated to. A little too much distortion on the vocals causes them to be slightly incoherent but overall a good song with a great ending.

‘Mercury Rising’, Wow! A real grower, the bass could be right off the black & white session (both sonically and stylistically! ‘Enough Time’ anyone?). I get why some reviewers have made the Marc Bolan reference with Baz’s vocal style here but I’d say it’s more nodding towards Beefheart. Comparisons don’t matter however, as it’s good to hear Baz experimenting a bit more with his voice revealing some wonderful quirkiness very fitting of this band!

‘Adios’, another song which is not instant but let it grow and you won’t regret it! This number wouldn’t be out of place on a Tarantino or an Almodovar soundtrack. And from what I can make out of the lyric with my rudimentary Espanol, there’s a real sense of finality coming across. Are they trying to tell us something? Some great guitar moments and lovely atmospheric keyboards, interwoven with a steady tango beat from Mr Black. The switch to English during the atmospheric closing is very effective. Notable absence of bass in this number!

15 steps is another grower, a jaunty rockabilly/Johnny Cash style number with a catchy 2 step beat. It took a couple of listens but it’s worth it. Highlights include the great opening guitar lick, Mr Burnel’s sublime bass runs, some really neat guitar work from Baz, a dizzying unison run between guitar and keyboard  plus of course Jets rock steady beat. Lyrically, this is an autobiographical number about the bands West Country accommodation. Great stuff!

The Stranglers have done it again! ‘Giants’ is not so much a return to form as an affirmation/underlining of the Legend of The Men in Black. In places it alludes to the past while never being derivative, it sounds like The Stranglers but still has a sense of progress. It is already attracting wildly differing opinions from the faithful and media alike (it is a Stranglers album after all!), with the majority being well on the side of those in favour. I’m also guessing that, due to it not being instant, some of those who weren’t initially impressed may well yet succumb to the greatness on offer here.

As for The Stranglers themselves, well if it is pipe and slippers time for them, what a fitting epitaph this would make (especially with the soon to be revealed cover art!).

EiTC 1st March 2012.

 

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