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No More Heroes - The Stranglers
Member Name: Wolfzilla
No More Heroes - The Stranglers
Advantages: Consistent, full of pounding punk anthems
Disadvantages: English Towns is a bit rubbish, could say it lacks variety.
Back in 1977 when most bands were doing their utmost to prove how 'punk' they were, The Stranglers had actually been doing everything in their power to do the opposite. Though often categorised with the punk acts of the time due to the controversial nature of some of their lyrics and the type of aggression and vocal delivery that alienated them from pretty much every other genre, the band themselves never made any claims of likeness with acts like the Sex Pistols or The Clash, and were outspoken in their desire to not be classed as punk. Their 1977 debut album, Rattus Norvegicus also distanced itself from The Clash's self titled effort, Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols, Damned Damned Damned and the other 'punk' albums greatly through its sound. Dave Greenfield's swirling, Doors-on-speed like keyboards would have been suffice, but the fact that guitarist Hugh Cornwell, bassist Jean Jacques Burnel and drummer Jet Black were all accomplished musicians, and not afraid to show it spat in the face of punk's 'no talent' aesthetic.
Rattus also stood out in that all but 2 of its songs ran over 2 minutes, and displayed a wide range of influences making the album ridiculously hard to classify. Arguably the best description I read, from a random internet review, of its sound was "shockingly frank blues punk noir". The band released their follow up album, No More Heroes a matter of months later, and if those who bought Rattus expecting a punk album were shocked, those who bought No More Heroes expecting more of the same were given an equally large surprise when loading No More Heroes onto their turntable. It's a punk album.
While in many people still class Rattus as a punk album, albeit a very unique one, No More Heroes is a far more straightforward punk affair. While Greenfield's keyboards are still a predominant feature, in contrast to its predecessor No More Heroes boasts only 2 songs that go over 4 minutes in length. Couple that with lyrics which almost all relate to alienation, rebellion and rebellious figures, and all of which worded in as controversial a fashion as possible, No More Heroes is far from the most diverse Stranglers (well, proper, Hugh Cornwell-era Stranglers) record. In fact it's probably the most straightforward.
While this may seem like a negative, given that a big part of the band's appeal comes from their ability and willingness to experiment with their sound, what saves No More Heroes is the fact that almost all of its 11 tracks are in fact cracking tunes.
2 of them are probably more famous for their controversial lyrical nature than anything else, album opener I Feel Like A Wog being the clear eye catcher, but Bring On The Nubiles' tale of teenage girl loving and chorus laced with F-bombs is potentially more controversial. Once you get over the fact there is an all-white band throwing the word "wog" about you do realise the song is in fact, relating a sense of sympathy to black people who are the subject of alienation due to their skin colour. Granted it isn't presented anywhere near this straightforwardly, and it's undeniable the term was used just to draw attention to the song, but as the band were prone to doing, they have attached this attention to a song that is, in fact worthy of the attention on merits of its music. Burnel's trademark thick, pounding bassline is the focal point of the song, as was the case quite regularly in the early days, and its Greenfield's organ's sharp cuts in playing along with this bassline that give the song a nice menacing edge. The amusing thing is that Nubiles is probably the more questionable of the 2 lyrics, and had Mary Whitehouse wrapped her ears around this it probably would have made her head explode. Starting with "I want to love you like your dad" the song never veers into anything near radio friendly territory. Cornwell did point out in his book about his time in the band that there have been countless songs with lyrics as sordid throughout the years, he simply made what he was saying explicit, which is true, yet Nubiles didn't exactly start a trend for doing so. Once again the nature of the lyrics almost overshadow the music itself, and this would be a shame as it's actually a very catchy punk song. Burnel's bassline is still thick and intimidating, though less prominent this time, and Cornwell's sharp telecaster riff plays a bigger role in proceedings as it duels with Greenfield's organ for your attention.
The album showcases bassist Burnel's vocal talents on several tracks, sadly not displaying a great deal of variety in his vocal performances, relying on an in-your-face snarl to deliver his lyrics to attack-on-venues Bitching, fast paced and fun but ultimately disposable, Burning Up Time and the classic Something Better Change, though mixing it up a little with a more sincere tone for the band's epitaph to their deceased superfan in Dagenham Dave. A characteristic of Burnel sung-tracks is usually that his bass is less prominent, though this isn't the case with Something Better Change, arguably one of the band's finest songs, and a bona fide punk anthem. Starting with a nice guitar intro, before the keyboard joins in, coming to a head as the rhythm section bursts into life accompanied by a grunt. The bassline is arguably at the forefront of the song, a simple outburst of rebellion giving a 2 fingered salute to those who would dare try to look down on the band and those who followed them. It's an angry, powerful anthem that's just as good, and in fact many degrees better than any attempt at a rousing rebellious anthem than the Pistols managed.
Interestingly, Dagenham Dave is both the most upbeat song on the album and also the most genuinely sad. A bittersweet song celebrating the life, yet still mourning, albeit in a stiff-lipped fashion, the death of the first man to really get behind the band. It's Greenfield's chance to show what he can do on his organ, and a surprisingly bouncy track. Arguably the most commercial on the record.
Of course that's different from being the best song on the record. For that accolade it's hard to see past the title track, the other major anthem No More Heroes. It's probably Burnel's most conventional, understated bassline, and it works well because it allows both Greenfield and Cornwell to shine with their respective solos and competitive keyboard/guitar riffing. Both, as well as drummer Jet Black, are at the top of their game, and it's punk's most musically fantastic anthem by quite a distance, worth listening to right until the end where Cornwell and Greenfield really do seem to start competing riffs building up to a sudden stop.
The album also marks Greenfield's debut as a vocalist. His vocals make Burnel's snarl seem conventional by comparison. He has a brilliant sort of eerie, leering way of delivering his vocals that suits both tracks he delivers to a T. Dead Ringer is a sort of voyeuristic critique of people who changed their ideals and appearances to cash in on punk. Its built around Burnel's jumpy bassline, but Greenfield's vocals steal the show. His other vocal performance is arguably my favourite, mainly because the track actually seems written around it, Peasant in the Big Sh*tty. It's another downbeat, fairly menacing toned song, this team Greenfield's keyboards are the focal point, in particular one simple but effective riff that Burnel mirrors on the bass. Lyrically it tells the tale of a country boy moving to London and the alienation he finds, but it's the bizarre lyrics that make it so unique. It's hard to picture lyrics like "the days were sickly yellow/the nights were so uptight/the cows go moo-oo/is everything alright?" performed in a conventional manner.
The album closer, School Mam, based on Cornwell's time as a teacher, carries the clearest narrative. It slates the perverse, dominating nature of head teachers. It's another song with an overbearing feeling of menace, built up by Burnel and Greenfield's hyperactive work on the bass and organ. It lacks the instrumental tour de force that the album closer to Rattus had, but it still succeeds in sucking you in for its 7 minute running time, which is no mean feat.
The album's only real let down is English towns, a song penned by Burnel, but sung by Cornwell, perhaps out of inability to get over the uninspiring nature of the song. It plods along nicely enough, but it lacks any real defining feature or hook. It would have worked better as a B-Side.
While it may be an album straightforward in theme and sound, that of anger, alienation and fast furious musicianship, but the fact is, No More Heroes does that theme and sound well. Very well. I'd argue with anyone that as far as punk albums go, only The Clash is comparable to No More Heroes in terms of the amount of genuinely infectious and memorable anthems of rebellion. it may be far from the Stranglers at their most instrumental or creative best, but in terms of simple, powerful songs it's one of the most consistently strong albums in their repertoire.
Summary: The Stranglers prove they can make a straightforward rock album, and make a very good one