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Stranglers Black and White - a Masterpiece.A dark and menacing album that exudes bleek wasteland imagery and references the cold war and death as a theme. U2 and Joy Division went on to create dark music with war torn overtones but the Stranglers did it first with Black and White and I believe influenced the aformentioned bands to do similar. For me the greatest album ever made and I am always puzzled when this album never gets a mention in those top one hundred lists that are regularly compiled.
Im going through one of those retro periods at the moment with my music listening habits and this latest one has been fuelled by listening to a recent album release of another band.
When I have one of these retro moments I nearly always start by listening to a Stranglers album, and the first album I always pick first to listen to is this one, Black and White.
After the release and success of both 'Rattus Norvegicus' and 'No More Heroes', The Stranglers released their third album 'Black and White' in May 1978.
'Black and White' was (for me anyway) the turning point for The Stranglers; it was a break of style from their first couple of albums and the start of a new direction, both musically and lyrically. The release of 'Black and White' also, quite by chance, coincided with the then declining 'punk rock' phenomenon. This showed the general public and the critics that The Stranglers meant to stay and weren't just in the business for the ride, despite rumours and one or two dubious comments from members of the band that The Stranglers were about to split up!
'Black and White' came about as a result of The Stranglers spending the winter of 1977-78 locked away at a 'farm' away from their London/Surrey base. Once they had thrashed out, debated, and finally agreed on the songs they had written for this album (which at this time had no fixed/set title), the collection was then given to their then trusted Mixer/Producer Martin Rushent who then set about 'making' the album complete. In the meantime The Stranglers went on tour, in America, which won't be remembered as the best in their history.
After some tweaking, and a visit to America by Martin Rushent to do some final 'adjustments' the 'Black and White' album was ready for release. The title was finally decided upon as a result of the songs on the album. It became apparent whilst mixing the tracks that there was an obvious difference in the songs in that there became two very distinct styles. One handful of songs were 'leftovers' and a continuation of the first albums, which became known as the 'White' side. The other songs were of a newer, different, darker style and had a more menacing feel about them, leading to them being included together on the 'Black' side of the album.
In May 1978 the album was released, and went straight into the album charts at number 2! Back then that was quite an achievement by anyone's standards and it was only just pipped to the number one slot by the Saturday Night Fever compilation album, which was all the rage back then.
So, to the album itself, as it was originally released on vinyl I shall obviously be reviewing that version; although I am aware there are some extra tracks on the CD version of the album.
THE WHITE SIDE
I don't know why I have started with the White side; I have always assumed this to be the 'first' side as I suppose many fans do. One reason for that is knowing The Stranglers style, and as I explained before the White side had the leftover tracks/songs from the first albums.
The album starts apace with  Tank, a lively starting song that is made more energetic with the combination of Dave Greenfields very interesting sound effects on his keyboard(s) and JJ Burnels relentless bass guitar work which is complemented by Hugh Cornwell's touches on his rhythm guitar and Jet Blacks momentum on the drums.
Next up is probably the most famous song from this album  Nice 'N' Sleazy, made even more (in)famous at a gig in Battersea Park when a group of female strippers danced naked to this song on stage. The tempo is slowed right down for  Outside Tokyo, a quite short and eerie song about time. If I remember correctly (you must excuse my failing memory) this was about the same time digital watches became all the rage which just fuelled our obsession about time.
The tempo picks up again quite dramatically with  Sweden (All Quiet On The Eastern Front), a very good song that changes pace dramatically throughout. Again I like the way Hugh Cornwell sings this with mock excitement when actually the song itself is a rather less than complimentary ode to what Sweden doesn't have to offer, save some interesting cloud formations!
The tempo is kept up as we move on to  Hey! (Rise of The Robots), and you don't need any clues to what this song is about! Yep, it's about our increasing reliance on computers in our lives. I like the way Hugh Cornwell sings this in a mock panic/fear tone. It's like he is warning everyone of an impending doom and having a little snipe at Unions in the process.
Now to the last track on the White side,  Toiler On The Sea, and probably one of my favourites. However, I don't like the album version of this song as much as I do when it is done live. Every Stranglers gig I have been to and this is played, it always receives some of the loudest cheers of the set. The instrument effects are something else, especially Dave Greenfield's keyboard version of a storm! Definitely a much better song live than in a studio, although this album version keeps me happy in the meantime.
THE BLACK SIDE
Now here is the contrast. This side of the album is moody and menacing but it works well, really well. We start with  Curfew, an excellent song and start to this side of the album setting the mood and pace of the 'Black' side perfectly.
Next up is  Threatened, a very dark and moody song that is basically about different outlooks/opinions in our lives and how important are they really in the grand scheme of things. This is probably my favourite song on this side of the album.
Then we have  In The Shadows - another dark, foreboding song about fear. There are some very good keyboard effects on this track, again from Dave Greenfield, which give the song a really eerie feeling.
The next two songs blend into each other starting with  Do You Wanna - although quite a good song, its probably my least favourite as it doesn't seem to go anywhere until near the end when it runs into  Death And Night And Blood (Yukio) - a song written and performed by JJ Burnel.
The last track on the black side is  Enough Time. When I first heard this track (listening to the vinyl version of course!), I thought there was something wrong with my Record Deck until I realised it was how the song was supposed to end. As the song nears completion it slows down dramatically and sounds like the turntable has come to a stop before the record has finished playing - a pretty good effect for the era!
As I said at the top of this review, this is probably the most played album of my Stranglers collection, but I don't really know why, it seems to have a magic of its own and for me it is like a milestone or turning point for The Stranglers. They had seemed to have gotten past the 'raw' era of their career with the first albums and the 'White' side of this one and started something new with the 'Black' side.
Another point Id like to make that with this album, unlike many other bands albums, no two songs sound the same or even feel the same. Here we have 12 quite unique and individual songs that range from the upbeat and faster tempo of Tank, Hey!, Sweden, Toiler On The Sea, Curfew and Enough Time to the quirky/eerie/edgy songs like Outside Tokyo, Threatened, In The Shadows, Do You Wanna and Death and Night and Blood. Then standing on its own is the punk-reggae classic Nice N Sleazy.
From a personal point of view The Stranglers and groups like them from this era have had an influence on a number of rock groups we see and hear today and this is why I recommend this album, especially as a good starting point if you wanted to have a flavour of The Stranglers and their style of rock.
If you are interested you can pick up the CD from Amazon marketplace for under a fiver and Ive often seen it at HMV for about the same price.
The extra tracks on the CD are:
Mean To Me
Walk On By (a cover of Dionne Warwicks classic)
Old Codger (with main guest jazz crooner George Melly)
Tits (yes, you read that correctly!)
I remember well waiting with baited breath for the release of The Stranglers' third album back in 1978. I was a committed fan back then and looked forward to some new material after the first two albums which had been drawn almost entirely from their sterling live sets. Unfortunately I was pretty ill at the time having had an appalling reaction to some penicillin after having had an abscess dealt with by the dentist and so had a very strange experience when I came to finally play the thing. Black And White, after the masterpiece of Rattus Norvegicus and the patchy mess of No More Heroes, was the dirty old men's shot at stretching their wings into some more musically challenging vistas. Unfortunately, they could not leave behind the nastiness of their subject matter and offered more cheap shots, attempting to right the balance with the addition of a male stripper to their live performances. They had always been fairly unpleasant chaps subject to heavy criticism for their misogynistic attitudes, and a few experiments with anti-war themes and global undercurrents couldn't hide their sleazier feelings, although they showed a nice touch of self-deprecation with the cod(piece) reggae shambles of Nice'n'Sleazy. Nevertheless, Black And White definitely represented a significant step forward from their first releases and the band showed that there was much more to them than the subterranean iron spring of Jean Jacques Burnel's bass lines and the sub-Manzarek keyboard doodlings of Dave Greenfield. Jet Black?s surly battering of his drums was as rock solid as it had always been, and Hugh Cornwell's guitar and vocals led affairs wirily, while Burnel and Greenfield still punched their weight. The band was now a mature and rounded unit, and the music was somehow much more clinical and probing than it had been earlier, with the grungy, grinding riffs replaced by spiralling flights of fancy. Some of the or
iginal individuality and inspiration that had run through the first two albums remained, but there was nothing here to match the glittering prizes of Hanging Around or Grip, but then we would have been in for a rare treat indeed if there had been. There was a lighter, more airy sound, less ground in the sewer and grime, and setting its gaze on higher ground. The preoccupation with women as sex objects was replaced with obsession with international conflict and globetrotting, although some of the new subject matter was surprisingly naïve and shallow. For such apparently learned old (new) farts, it was shocking that they were so content to be depicted as a bunch of moronic tramps whose minds rarely rose above the level of the groin. I have to say that the penicillin had meant that my mind was similarly rooted in affairs within my pant region, but that was not a matter of choice, while The Stranglers' focus was entirely at their own volition. They were better than this and could have soared to new heights if they had so chosen, but strangely they seemed unprepared to venture far outside their limited comfort zone and surprisingly complacent. That was perhaps the word which most characterised The Stranglers after their initial burst of activity - the smug whiff of complacency was everywhere, dominating everything they did. You dare not utter a word of criticism, constructive or otherwise, in their company for fear of having a fearsome bass guitar inserted somewhere particularly unpleasant, apparently a trick the band were quite keen on in the presence of their notorious bunch of groupies. These guys were not a pleasant bunch and didn't mind who knew the fact. Guttural snarls and glares were the stock in trade of The Stranglers, and you always got the impression they were chortling unpleasantly up their collective, frayed sleeves at us, pitying us and our tiny little lives. There was little hint of either humanity or sympathy in their l
atest offering, as they dropped happily into the third person rather than the first person commentary which had permeated their first two sets. They were now observers of humanity rather than part of it. The detachment somehow made it far easier for them to spit out their insults and venom. Odd then that they should spend so many minutes of the album pondering on the qualities of clouds, like they had imbibed one too many joints. "Hello clouds, hello sky" seemed oddly out of keeping when thinking about such spiteful old warmongers. Still, that's The Stranglers, brimming over with surprises and moments of finesse. NOT!! Tank, the fearsome opening track, was the sort of ham fisted and clumsy denuciation of war that any third former would have been proud to have penned. Subtlety and irony were never qualities which the band ever really cherished and unfettered cheap sarcasm was more regularly the chief weapon in their locker. Tank was just rank, bowed down with callous rage and pedestrian lack of charm. However, at least they could do rage and contempt with a fair degree of sincerity. The same could not be said of The Stranglers' feel for reggae. Nice'n'Sleazy may have been a boisterous and enthusiastic hit single, but the band never moved beyond the bare mechanics of the off beat skank. Burnel's bass burns with arrogant contempt for the genre and makes you wonder why they ever bothered. The track has a certain perverse attraction and is executed with a fair amount of gusto, but just oozes embarrassment and forced amusement. Still, parody of parodies is the stuff of academics, and the black pants and overcoats were always worn with mock relish. Could they be taking the rise out of their own macho appeal? I doubt it. Still, for its brazen lack of self-consciousness you have to admire the band's gall. Outside Tokyo was slighter and more romantic, although only by the grim standards
of The Stranglers. Ferchrissakes, you could even half accuse Cornwell of trying to croon, rather than bark. It's light and airy and totally sweet. (Sorry, just trying to piss Hughie off.) Still, it is poetic and almost soothing, a blessed relief in the Land of 1000 Tramps. The jazz blurt sax blasts of Lora Logic, formerly of X Ray Spex at least made the sound of Hey! (Rise of the Robots) distinctive, if not overly attractive. The targets are all too easy, lame ducks without the ability to raise a cry of protest, and it's a mighty good job, because the thrusts are hardly rapier like. In fact, it's more rusty blunderbuss than epee in the locker of the Angry Old Men. Bemoaning the dominance of automata was pretty old hat even in the early 70's, never mind at the tail end of the decade. Still, more robust opponents might have made our heroes look slightly less dominant. Bullies don't like being defied, remember. Sweden was back in the sunnier climes hinted at in Outside Tokyo and all the better for it, although it's still eerily sinister to hear Cornwell absent mindedly breathing "Cumulonimbus goes by." Clearly a hint of times to come and the soothing tones of Golden Brown. Then with the extravagant Toiler On The Sea, The Stranglers finally hit upon their perfect new sound. Mainly instrumental and surprisingly atmospheric, Toiler caught the band flying off into almost uncharted territories in the way they had hinted at in the closing sections of Rattus Norvegicus. The Stranglers were closet jazz freaks and the cat was out of the bag. The track rambled on and on about nothing in particular, but dripped with gravitas. It was a shame then that it was all downhill from that moment on with the bloodthirsty and turgid waltz of Curfew, Threatened, In The Shadows, Do You Wanna, Death And Night And Blood and Enough Time, dubbed the black side of the original LP. They were dumber than dumb and obn
oxiously ignorant songs, hardly worthy of the time. CD releases of the album variously contain a selection of the following: Mean To Me, Shut Up, Sveridge, Old Codger and Tits, but it was only the night club jazz version of Bacharach and David's Walk On By (a memorable hit single for Dionne Warwick) which remained in the memory. It showed what the band could do if they had a decent tune to work with and demonstrated potential future directions which they went on to exploit with some finesse. Cornwell's guitar and singing were inspired and lifted the band to whole new levels of achievement. It was a shame that they could not find other work to match that and Toiler On The Sea. If they had they may well have been able to produce a half way decent album. As it was, Black And White was like the noise of an incontinent tramp farting when you knew he could coax a gorgeous trumpet solo out of his blistered old lips.
'Tank' kicks of the 'white'side, and what an opener it is! - one of the Stranglers best songs, it's a fierce 100mph no nonsense anthem. The single 'Nice and Sleazy' comes next featuring some inspired keyboard work from Dave Greenfield. Other highlights from the white side include the manic sax in Hey! and the on stage fave Toiler on the Sea The 'black' side starts with 'Curfew' and this sets the tone for the remaining tracks -very mean, moody and sinister. The brilliant 'Threatened' and 'In the Shadows' features bass guitar work that sounds truly evil! The only criticism I could level at this CD release is the choice of bonus tracks (Tits. Walk on By and Mean to Me) which sound slightly out of place alongside the original tracks in the black/white theme In conclusion an excellent purchase, it is a shame that this release is often overlooked in favour of the more critically acclaimed (The Raven) or commercially successful releases (eg Rattus)
I, Cookie36, have removed this, my opinion. Therefore it can no longer be rated unless you actually want to rate these few words of explanation. I have decided to do this for personal reasons and am hoping that dooyoo will delete this account. I feel I can no longer be part of dooyoo as I feel there is too much wrong with it and there are a lot of things happening here that shouldn't. However for those that still enjoy the 'experience', then... Happy Dooyooing!
Black and White was released in 1978, the year following the Stranglers' first two magnificent albums, 'Rattus Norvegicus' and 'No More Heroes'. Their record company, perhaps influenced by their chart success, packaged it with a bonus white vinyl single record. One black vinyl LP, with a black label on one side and a white label on the other, plus a white single. Truly Black and White. I listened to these records and I didn't like them. I put them away and forgot about them. Other albums came which I played while Black and White languished forgotten. Many years later I was working in Stockholm, living in a rented apartment with a hi-fi player. On the way to the airport I grabbed a stack of records and Black and White was amongst them. I played it and thought to myself 'this is brilliant'. And so I was a late convert. I just cannot understand now why I didn't take to it at first - except it wasn't like the first two. There is cracking fast rock and roll, with that swirling deep electric organ weaving in and around that so reminds me of 'The Doors'. I think this album has the best keyboard playing of all the Stranglers records. For three months in Stockholm I listened to this album every day; it was on continuous play. Let me tell you about Sweden ?? The CD also has 'Mean to Me' and 'Walk on By' from the white single, as bonus tracks. It is hard to select favourite tracks, but 'Death and Night and Blood (Yukio)'s anthem like chant has me joining in every time, and of course 'Nice 'n' Sleazy' and 'Tank'. If you haven't got this album, look for it. Over twenty years old and it is as fresh as the day it was released.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Nice 'n' Sleazy
3 Outside Tokyo
4 Hey (Rise Of The Robots)
5 Sweden (All Quiet On The Eastern Front)
6 Toiler On The Sea
9 In The Shadows
10 Do You Wanna
11 Death And Night And Blood (Yukio)
12 Enough Time
13 Mean To Me
14 Walk On By