Away from the curse, he'd swap all his worth to be a man of the earth
10 (1990) *1/2
The Stranglers entered the '90s and ended Hugh Cornwell's tenure with their worst-ever album. For whatever reason, the band that had once aimed to be the punk rock answer to the Doors now seem to be sincerely attempting to be a '90s update of ? and the Mysterians, complete with not only a faceless cover of "96 Tears," but a shameless rewrite of that '60s chestnut, their original "Too Many Teardrops," - on the same album! "The Sweet Smell of Success," starts matters rolling promisingly enough; it's by no stretch a great tune, but at least it's got a nice & greasy pub rock feel to it - hurrah, the '80s are over! And do my ears deceive me, or is Jet Black playing real drums again? A pity, that though the album has a more organically pleasing sound to it than their last few albums, the material is even more threadbare. The songwriting mostly consists of pub rock readymades, the kind of music you'd expect to hear for a beer commercial. A track like "Let's Celebrate," sounds as generic and uninspired as its title. Greenfield's keyboards are once again pushed up front for most of the album, but instrumentally speaking JJ Burnel's bass is no longer a recognizable sonic feature; he now sounds like an ordinary bass player mixed in a regular rock band. Of Burnel's three songs, two are flat-out awful: "In This Place," is a repetitive and horribly sung goth number, while "Where I Live," comically peacock struts in his patented arrogant stud mode. It sounds like it could a self-parody, but anyway, it's not all that funny. The final track, "Never To Look Back," is surprisingly a musically strong number that seems to allude to Burnel's teenage right-wing past - "I wore a black shirt, but I never was one."
Of the Cornwell-sung songs, "Out of My Mind," is passable retro-psychedelia, and yes, that is damning with faint praise. "Man of the Earth," might have had potential with better production and a more inspired musical performance, even if it is a blatant Ray Davies rip - c'mon now, Kinks ripoffs are generally by definition at least pretty good, aren't they? Like I said, the material is pretty threadbare. None of the songs I've mentioned so far in this review are particularly good or anything; some are just less blatantly sucky than the others. The most fun you can have with this album is poring over the cover and trying to see how many of the characters you can identify. Let's see....Castro is pretty obvious, as is Arafat, and there's Khadaffi in trademark shades, and that must be an actor playing Thatcher in drag. That's a pretty piss-poor impersonation of the Pope, if that who it's intended to be. Indira Gandhi is the lady on the right? Wasn't she dead at this point? It's 1990, so Bush, Sr. should be in there somewhere, but I can't spot him. Oh hell, this is a lot less fun than Sgt. Pepper's.
No embedded Youtubes this time, as the representative track I found declares "embedding disabled by request." And it should tell you something about the quality of this album and how low it is esteemed by fans that there are practically no fanvids available at this time for hardly any of the songs. So follow the link to "The Sweet Smell of Success" if you're curious. It was the single and probably the best track on the album, for what little that's worth.