Shawn Roberts's Reviews > The Stranglers: Song by Song 1974-1990

The Stranglers by Hugh Cornwell
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Jun 09, 2011

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Read from June 09 to 17, 2011

No band was more willfully, confrontationally stupid than The Stranglers in their 1976-1979 heyday. No band worked harder to alienate its audience than The Stranglers did between 1981 and 1984, moving at blinding speed from dirty dirge-y Doors-y testosterone rock to science fiction scribbles to meditations on love to dinky synthpop. As a fan back in the day, I can tell you that it was a constant challenge not to be disappointed by the new material as it arrived. Yet through it all there was a strain of sensitive musicianship and a real open attempt to get beyond the straightjacket conventions of pop and psych, all with one eye on their chart performance.

This book represents The Stranglers perfectly. It gets at all the contradictions, has great intentions, offers baffling explanations for baffling behavior and artistic choices, and ultimately disappoints. Cornwell is a great raconteur and goes to great pains not to say anything *too* controversial about his former bandmates, with whom he still has famously rancorous relations.

The book's strength is also its weakness: having to page through every song. Sometimes the forced format brings up interesting tales from Cornwell's back pages, but there are also too many Stranglers songs ("Bring On The Nubiles" stands out) that are just too irredeemably stupid to face any kind of scrutiny. The book is also occasionally sullied by the interviewer's fanboy knowledge of every nook & cranny of The Stranglers' career but little about the basics of rock history. ("Who's Steve Cropper?" he asks at one point. Dude, look it up.)

For me the real fascination here is Cornwell's vivid memories of what it was like to be a mid-tier band in the 80s that was hyperaware of its fan base and 'career trajectory' while trying to map against record companies and their own artistic strivings, which often fail them, frankly. (Cornwell, for example, has no patience for drummer Jet Black's refusal to play the drums in the early 80s - and he is correct, it pretty much ruined their sound.) By the late 80s albums, which I skipped at the time too, I was jumping pages ahead.

Recommended for fans who know The Stranglers' catalogue well or have an interest in odd chapters of punk and 1980s UK pop, skippable for anyone else.
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