The Stranglers Rattus Norvegicus Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Packed with punchy, if sexist, fare from the first summer of hate.

Chris Jones 2009

When it was released, Rattus Norvegicus saw The Stranglers – for the summer of 1977, at least – well ahead of the punk pack.

Its distinctive combination of lyrical anger and organ-driven sleaze was both deeply confrontational and musically accomplished. This was an album that found considerable success by crossing barriers: those older music fans who found the minimalism of The Damned or the Ramones a little too off-putting could deal with the snaking arabesques of Hugh Cornwell's guitar solos, Jean Jacques Burnel's growling Fender Precision bass or Dave Greenfield's frankly psychedelic organ arpeggios. Oh, and some great tunes.Like older outfits, such as The Only Ones or The Vibrators, the former Guildford Stranglers not only had the unfashionable ability to play rather well but also to display their 60s roots; not least in the swirling keyboards of Greenfield, who obviously took his inspiration from The Doors' Ray Manzarek. And despite having a drummer who looked like he was wanted in several counties (and old enough to be the average fan's dad), a keyboard player with a preposterous pudding bowl haircut and 'tache, plus a nasty line in lyrical misogyny, these were seasoned pros who knew exactly how to work the publicity machine.

Beginning your album with a line about smacking your girlfriend's face (Sometimes) was never going to sit well with an increasingly feminised media. But of course it was this kind of puerile antagonism that was going to win them column inches and gig receipts, as they undoubtedly knew. Subsequent albums became exponentially sophisticated with some tellingly literate cultural reference points, but this debut, produced by Martin Rushent, goes out of its way to be brutish, reflecting their live appeal.

Besides classic single moments such as Peaches and (Get A) Grip (On Yourself), the album is packed with punchy, if sexist, fare like London Lady or Hanging Around. Yet the band betrays their true nature by concluding with the multi-part 'concept' piece, Down in the Sewer. It also gave the game away with regard to the black humour that lies at the heart of their music. How else do explain a line like, “We'll be called the survivors. Do you know why? (No!) Because we're gonna survive!”

Thirty years on the non-PC aspects seem doubly crass, but the tunes remain paramount examples of the perfect mix of old and new from the first summer of hate.

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