The Stranglers’ essential third album pointed towards a more ambitious future.
David Quantick 2012
After two albums – the great Rattus Norvegicus and its weaker sister, No More Heroes – and some extraordinary singles, The Stranglers were one of the most successful punk-era bands, hitting the top 10 regularly and being controversial (even for 1977) with their sexist lyrics and macho attitude.
In 1978 they were in danger of becoming a loutish version of The Doors, whose keyboard riffs they seemed overly fond of. But, with a verve that would mark most of the records they released, The Stranglers turned everything round on their third album, the extraordinary Black and White.
With an aptly stark cover and a division into "black" and "white" sides, Black and White was immediately notable for its tougher sound and attitude, and a merciful lack of songs about how awful women were.
Instead, bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel offered takes on the homoerotic machismo of Yukio Mishima (Death and Night and Blood) while lead vocalist Hugh Cornwell mused on tanks (Tank), robots (Rise of the Robots) and, er, Sweden (Sweden).
Along the way, songs like Threatened, In the Shadows and Curfew layered on the menace big time, all helped by Martin Rushent’s best production for the band yet. Beefy yet minimal, it displayed clear influences on the work of Gang of Four and Joy Division.
In the mix you can hear bits of electronics and keyboards (and creepy, sped-up voices) that would culminate in the full-on synthesized alien paranoia of their Meninblack era. After Black and White, The Stranglers would leave their punk and their pub-rock roots behind forever, embracing the keyboard-led pop of the 1980s with aplomb (but not before recording their iciest album, the confidently fantastic The Raven).
Those looking to buy or download Black and White are advised to follow their ears to the singles and EPs surrounding the album’s release. No other band would accompany their most stringent release so far with a crushingly great version of Bacharach and David’s Walk On By, a ludicrous punk boogie called Mean to Me, and, best of all, a collaboration with saucy British trad-jazz great George Melly called Old Codger, which manages to be both filthy and incomprehensible. Essential.