Album Review: The Stranglers – Giants
It’s going on 40 years since The Stranglers originally formed, but someone clearly forgot to tell the punk legends that bands of their age should probably be running out of steam by now. From the moment the first track of their phenomenal new studio album swings into action, it’s clear that this is a veteran outfit who are right back at the top of their game.
Hugh Cornwell may be a distant memory and his replacement Paul Roberts is also long gone, but Giants – their first record since 2006, and the second following Roberts’ departure – demonstrates a continued degree of variety and flair that laughs in the face of anyone doubting the band’s staying power.
The Stranglers have always been about entertainment-value, sweetening any snarling edginess with playful humour and a winning sense of fun, and Giants is no different. It’s armed with fantastic choruses, a masterful appreciation for melody and a feel-good vibe so infectious that only the clinically dead will be able to resist dancing around to it like a possessed loon.
Things get off to a great start with the delicious, sleazy funk of Another Camden Afternoon, an opening instrumental armed with an attention-grabbing bass hook and gorgeous guitars, accompanied by licks of classy organ. It’s a perfect way to kick things off: a track that screams ‘get ready for a show’. And a show is what we get.
It’s the sheer energy of the album that so impresses. At the risk of sounding patronising, the driving guitar-strumming and yo-yoing bass on Lowlands delivers the exuberance of a band less than half The Stranglers’ age. Imagine an early Strokes given a forceful kick up the backside to instill more attitude and purpose, and you’re pretty much there.
You can just imagine Warne and co. grinning widely as they serve up the lively cheekiness of Boom Boom on stage, while Time Was Once On My Side has the feel of Happy Mondays meets Madness, its dance-ready melodies segueing between euphoric funk and knock-about two-tone.
That’s before we even get onto the jaunty pirate-synth of Mercury Rising, which musters something almost akin to a psychedelic new-wave sea shanty. However, The Stranglers know how to slow the pace without killing the mood too.
Adios (Tango), complete with Spanish lyrics, is a surprising, leftfield Santana-esque rock ballad pulled off brilliantly, boasting an irresistible air of laid-back cool that only falters with the earnest and out-of-place climax.
My Fickle Resolve is both coolly relaxing and oddly profound, with shades of Jarvis Cocker in the vocal delivery and eccentric story-telling, and this quality is also shared by the remarkable, uplifting title track, which offers up the telling lyric: “Times have been better, but bitterness won’t invade my soul.” There’s a philosophy at work here, and it’s a stirring one.
There are a few less-than-great offerings, but Giants is a strong collection that fires out far more gems than a 17th studio album has a right to. Time has clearly not dulled The Stranglers’ capacity to craft fun, memorable tracks, and there’s material here that’s right up there with anything they’ve ever produced.
Yes, everyone loves Peaches and No More Heroes, but on this evidence fans certainly aren’t going to be impatiently waiting to hear those standards on the band’s upcoming tour. The key is that The Stranglers really seem to be having a great time with their new material, rather than going through the motions like some other veteran acts – and they clearly want the listener to have a cracking time too.
Few bands could sound this good after several line-up changes and nearly four decades in the business, but then The Stranglers have never really been ones to conform to expected norms. Make no mistake: Giants is one of the most consistently enjoyable albums you’ll hear all year, and you’d be a fool not to check it out.
FMV Rating: ****1/2
Giants is out on March 5th.