If ever a band straddled the void between hall of fame legends and underappreciated genius it’s The Stranglers. They have a greatest hits set that is totally unique and instantly recognisable and yet, they’re also by passed often in the conversation about punk, about post punk and in their place somewhere between pub rockers and goth icons. OK sure, they tour every year they can. In the years that they do there is enough of a draw to fill theaters the size of Brixton Academy or a Northern City Hall. They’ve popped up on festival bills like Glastonbury more than once (even in this century). So they’re not completely overlooked.
It’s fair criticism that it’s not the entire classic line up all the time. There are reasons the sunshine can get in your eyes. Having been and seen on more than one occasion I can tell you they deliver the goods so many ways. They have more than one stone cold classic album in their discography. They have a thing that represents their place (you know a Stranglers hit by the combined sound of bass groove, keyboard gymnastics and guitars used like battering rams) and in the heady days of playground fandom they would take their place somewhere above Madness and The Jam but just below The Clash in the punk seriousness stakes.
Or so I’m told. I was (believe it or not) too young for Punk and The Stranglers on it’s initial wave. By the time I got to know my Stranglers from my Damned from my Stiff Little Fingers it was all after the fact. There were already gateway compilation albums and The Sound Of The Suburbs on CD.
That’s what happens with scenes. They get boiled down in hindsight. Try telling a kid today that any major band is more than the shortlisted handful of songs. You’ll get an OK Boomer. The best of Led Zeppelin, The Cure (Especially The Cure) Queen, even Green Day does not fit on one disc. This was the case with The Stranglers. I went to see them play the Black And White album back to back at one of those shows where a band tell you what they’re going to play on the ticket. What a journey.
From Tank through the already featured before Nice And Sleazy taking in All Quiet On The Western Front and Rise Of The Robots it was a beguiling experience. I was in an audience with such warmth and bonhomie I felt like I was at a family affair. It may have been an album unfamiliar to me but I could literally feel the joy exuding from the crowd around me at hearing deep cuts alongside live staples. That brings us to Toiler On The Sea. If ever a song was designed for the live arena it’s Toiler. At the end of what would have once been recognised as Side One. An opportunity to let the band really show case their chops and with a lengthy walking of a (salty) dog intro. A chance for the front man to *ahem* compose himself. Except in The Stranglers if you’re singing you’re busy playing too. So that jam is there to work the band hard. Work the band hard it does.
This band could really kick out the jams live.
I can feel a theme week coming on