Music

The Stranglers: Suite XVI

The Stranglers have renewed their maverick approach, sounding as creative and enthused as ever before. Now 30 years into their recording history, the "Meninblack" are back.


The Stranglers

Suite XVI

Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2007-01-16
UK Release Date: 2006-09-18
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Between 1977 and 1984, the seeds for much of the great music of the last 30 years were planted. In the UK, the punk, post-punk, new wave, and rock pouring out at this time was astonishingly vast and often great. One band that captured all of this was the Stranglers. Considering the number of artists from that era who have been name-checked in the last few years, it is in some ways astonishing how little the acts of today have paid homage to the Stranglers. Perhaps they have always lacked a clear iconography or focused style to latch onto. The Sex Pistols were pissed-off punks, Joy Division were tensely menacing and charcoal gray, and the Fall took garage rock and twisted it in new wavy ways. The Stranglers, however, grabbed from all of this and mined their own parallel musical vein. They were often catchy, but weirdly so. And Dave Greenfield's keyboard work could verge on a proggy kind of rock, which, in the late '70s, couldn't have been less fashionable. Still, the "Meninblack" were popular in the UK all through the '80s, scoring several hits and winning many fans.

Sure, they sucked in the '90s, but they were never meant to be a good grunge-era band, anyway. Thankfully, music trends move in cycles, and that classic Stranglers sound fits in perfectly here in the 2000s. On Suite XVI, their accurately titled 16th studio release, the band pick up where their first creative run left off, a couple of decades ago. Three-fourths of the original line-up are still together, with the ironically silver-haired Jet Black on drums, JJ Burnell on bass and vocals, and Greenfield on keys. Much newer to the band is guitarist and singer Baz Warne, finally providing the crucial ingredient missing in the Stranglers since Hugh Cornwell left in 1990.

So, with fresh blood and good timing, the band issued their best-reviewed album in ages in 2004, Norfolk Coast. Since then, vocalist Paul Roberts has left the band, leaving a lean quartet who seem more than capable of shouldering the load all on their own, thank you very much. Suite XVI starts off blazing with "Unbroken", a ferociously catchy, organ-blasting rocker that's been lodged in my brain since my first listen. Always a band with a wry sense of humor, that trend continues with the lyrics here: "I've been chained before my peers/ I've been old before my years/ Even been confused about my orientation" (sung: "orientay-yay-tion"). The next two songs are primed for release as singles, too. "The Spectre of Love" is another pop-fueled rocker, this time heavier on guitars, and "She's Slipping Away" is both bouncy and oddly romantic with its cinematic melodic refrain.

That initial trio of tracks are great, but the truly off-kilter personality of the Stranglers feels a bit submerged. On first exposure, I was concerned. If the whole album continued like that, we would have a problem. However, while some discs are front-loaded with all of the good material, Suite XVI offers nothing but great songs from start to finish. And, beginning with the thorny, jittery "Summat Outanowt", a tremendous variety of songwriting reveals a band who knows how to write killer tracks for everyone, disc jockeys and die-hard fans alike. The slow, pretty, and reverb-doused "Anything Can Happen" is a somber and beautiful anti-war meditation: "Dare to look me in the eye/ The man who sent our sons to die/ Mothers, daughters they do cry."

Perfectly placed mid-album is the kinetic rave-up "See Me Coming", an awesome cross-breeding of Love & Rockets and Inspiral Carpets, but with pitch-perfect melodrama that could be pure cheese in less capable hands. In the record's latter half, the band take turns venturing into desert soundscapes with "Bless You (Save You, Spare You, Damn You)"; manic post-punk-pop on "A Soldier's Diary"; and cow-poke cabaret with the campily blunt "I Hate You". Only "Barbara (Shangri-La)" fails to find a strong hook, but the band make up for this with the rousing (yet also floating and, at one point, goofy(!)) closing cut "Relentless". Blending atmosphere, energy, mood, sobriety, and high jinks into one track, it showcases everything you should love about the Stranglers.

During their heyday, they never pigeonholed themselves or got stuck in a rut, unleashing mostly great albums all throughout the punk and new wave era. More than 20 years later, the Stranglers have renewed that same maverick approach, sounding as creative and enthused as ever before. If you were a fan back in the day, you must get this album. For everyone else, Suite XVI might just knock your socks off while you're waiting for new releases from next-gen bands like Kaiser Chiefs and the Bravery. Those acts might not even be aware of the influence of the Stranglers on their sound, but that just goes to show how wonderfully subversive the Stranglers have always been. Now 30 years into their recording history, the "Meninblack" are back.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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