Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Stranglers - No More Heroes

I feel like a wog, I get all the dirty shitty jobs

No More Heroes (1977) ****1/2

A hastily assembled followup tossed out to the ravenous public barely half a year after the release of Rattus Norvegicus, No More Heroes feels like something of a disappointment, and indeed, about half of these songs were initially recorded for the Rattus sessions but passed over for stronger material that made up the nearly-flawless debut.  Like a lot of bands that struggled for years in the pubs and clubs, the Stranglers had a considerable backlog of unused material to fall back upon, but it's easy to see why such gang choruses as "Dead Ringer" and "Bitching" were held back - they're hard-hitting and exciting in a crude way, but clearly playing for the B-team.   At this point the reader must be glancing at the very high rating and the fact that I am referring to the album as a sophomore in the slumps, and in actuality, the original album would probably recieve **** - a weak ****, but the three bonus tracks raise the level to an unequivocal ****1/2.  And a four star LP is by definition an excellent album - it's only disappointing in comparison with the debut.  There's only one truly wretched song found herein, the six-minute closer "School Mam," an embarassingly juvenile sex fantasy that tries to work as a spoken-word piece of gruesome gross-out poetry like the VU's "The Gift", but it.....well, I never liked "The Gift," it sucked, too.  It's the final track, so you can shut the album off after "English Towns," a lonely cocksman's lament of  "No love in a thousand girls."  Life must be rough sleeping with a different beautiful woman every night yet still a solitary, loveless soul.  Poor JJ.  OK, the chorus is resonant, maybe even tragic if you let it be, from a certain perspective - finding true love isn't easy, and if Monsieur Burnel has to sleep with another 1,001 groupies to find The One, then sacrifices must be made for the quest.

Anyway, this album was released in late '77 as opposed to early '77, and in such a momentous year the changes in the punk landscape were evident:  this album is angrier, nastier, musically more aggressive and hard rocking.  Not to mention a whole lot filthier.  I'm no expert on the history of smut in popular culture, but I believe that No More Heroes marks a small milestone in violating the FCC standards.  I'd be pleased if someone could give me some counterexamples, but I do not believe there had been, up to that point in our year of the Lord 1977, a mainstream pop/rock album with this many cuss words.  Mainstream, I said, an album that actually went gold and made the pop charts, not some obscuro foul-mouthed comedy record by the Fugs or Deviants or somebody.  "Bring on the Nubiles," alone would have broken the Stranglers into Guinness, as Hugh uses the word "fuck" an astonishing eight times, which may not seem much until you hear how non-shy about he is about mouthing it.  Yeah, now I've got your curiousity up, anyone taking bets on which song is most likely to be immediately ransacked on the Youtube search engine after newbies have read this review?  Have fun.  You know you love a good snigger.

Same as with the debut, the pacing is handled well, with the two A-sides stuck right in the middle.  The title track is by a good margin the strongest track on here, introducing a welcome political edge to the Stranglers' lyrical reportoire as they mourn fallen idols from Leon Trotsky to Lenny Bruce, while musically it boasts one of the most insistently powerful rock intros ever - once the swirling hooks sink in they don't let up, and it's one hell of a ride.  "Something Better Change," also brandishes an unforgettably mighty chorus and swirling keyboards, though I'm not sure exactly if the main hook resides in the bass as well.  

There are a couple of other very strong tracks that are almost as good as the singles, but not quite.  "Dagenham Dave" tells the sad real life tale of an obsessed fan and friend of the band who committed suicide, and is as rousingly anthemic spit-in-the-face-of-death as an Irish wake.  The opener, "I Feel Like a Wog," is a menacingly mid-tempo, repetitive and amelodic grind with half-spoken, half-spat vocals from Hugh that conflate alienation with racism.  The track is clearly sarcastic, deeply angry and bitter, and frankly, only an idiot with the brains of a National Front gorilla could possibly misinterpret it as some sort of neo-fascist anti-immigrant rallying cry.  Which, of course, given the brains of your typical neo-nazi skinhead, they did.  Not the Stranglers' fault that half the population possess below average intelligence.  I suppose that bands should be careful using racism as a song subject because it's possible that they might be misinterpreted.  For that matter, I suppose that bands should never, ever use any sarcasm in any of their songs, because many people can misinterpret sarcasm.  Let's go further, just for safety's sake we shouldn't even use sarcasm in real life.  You never know when the person you're telling a good old racist joke to might be some politically correct, pinko commie fag.

A couple of songs I haven't mentioned yet, "Burning Up Time," and "Peasant in the Big Shitty."  There, now I've mentioned them.  The bonus tracks include the other side of "Something Better Change," the even more awesome "Straighten Out," which was why it was not a B-side, but a double A-side!  The spoken intro makes oblique reference to cannibalism, and the structure is a little bit aconventional in that there are three verses, three choruses, and then a keyboard solo to close off the song.   "5 Minutes," sounds like it was recorded at a later date, as it fits the Black & White or The Raven sound more than No More Heroes (hint:  it was, in late 1978 I believe).  "They came along on a Saturday night / They killed the cat and they raped his wife," - sounds like lyrics were inspired by Straw Dogs, but once again JJ Burnel is singing about a real life incident in which some friends' apartment was burgled and one of the girls there sexually assaulted.  He allows himself a bit of violently spat cursing as an aside near the end, in his native French, which roughly translates (I looked it up on a Youtube commentary) as "Watch out when I get my hands on you, motherfuckers!"  The B-side to that single was "Rok It To The Moon," a sci-fi goof inspired by Cornwell catching wind of Devo live in '78, and no less fun for being the well-intentioned homage it was.

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