Album review: Giants and Gems: an album collection by The Stranglers

Giants and Gems by The Stranglers
Giants and Gems by The Stranglers
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IT is the 40th anniversary year for The Stranglers, and no-one is more surprised than they are that they are still around.

The band are celebrating with their Ruby Anniversary tour around the UK during March, and Parlophone Records is releasing this 11-CD box set in commemoration.

In the UK alone, they have had 17 top 40 studio albums, and considering that they have only released 17 studio albums, that’s not a bad success record (excuse the pun).

This superb collection gathers together the albums from the bands’ time on UA/Liberty (these cover the years 1977 – 1986), and their two most recent albums; 2006’s Suite XVI and 2012’s Giants.

To add sugar to the collection, there is Live at the Hope and Anchor which was recorded live in 1977, and Off The Beaten Track, an album of rarities.

Their first two albums, Rattus Norvegicus and No More Heroes, were issued only six months apart as the band became figureheads of the ‘punk’ explosion, despite them not being a punk band.

Albums like The Raven, The Gospel According to the Meninblack and La Folie showcased the bands’ musicianship and intelligence in the way they approached the concept of aliens and all things paranormal, as well as using classical instruments in the waltz style on their biggest single hit Golden Brown.

After the punk years ended, the band transcended musical genres to become respected and revered amongst their peers and those who really know music.

Their later work, as included in this box-set, shows a real return to form, as their recent albums have been widely acknowledged as among their very best.

The two live albums here, from 1977 and 1979, feature a band full of energy and anger with powerful performances of their early repertoire.

What makes this collection more interesting is that it is possible to follow the development of the band over its’ early years.

And what a time it was!

The first seven albums, which for most bands would be the best part of a decades’ worth of music, only covers four years – such was the bands’ prodigious output.

They started off with their – yes, we’ll say it – ‘punk’ albums; Rattus Norvegicus was dark and forbidding as was No More Heroes.

Both albums had the ability to shock and horrify the listener.

However, by the time the second album, No More Heroes, hit it’s stride, the lyrics were becoming more intelligent with tracks like No More Heroes bemoaning the historical figureheads of the twentieth century, and the social comment of Something Better Change.

Black and White was more commentary with everything being – literally – black and white with no shades of grey.

Then there was a pause for breath as their Live X-Cert album treated us to a sample of the energy of a Stranglers’ concert.

Next up was the experimental The Raven with what some may say odd tracks.

The title track and Baroque Bordello are the oddest, and the band pokes a bit of (friendly?) fun at their fans in Duchess, with the album ending with the strange Genetix (still featured in the live set as it’s one that keyboard player Dave Greenfield sings).

One of the tracks on The Raven introduces us to the theme of the Men In Black and their shady dealings with all things extra-terrestrial.

This is continued in the sixth album – the concept album The Gospel According to the Meninblack.

And since the band have always uniformly worn black, this became a nickname for the band.

The early EMI years ended with the sophisticated La Folie, which of course gave us Golden Brown.

Fast forward to 2006 and following their return to form with Norfolk Coast, The Stranglers released Suite XVI, arguably their best for two decades with the new classic tracks Unbroken, Spectre of Love and Summat Outanowt.

And finally the latest ‘gem’ Giants with the infectious Mercury Rising and Boom Boom.

This collection covers the commercial heyday – and renaissance of a truly legendary band, 11 albums and 11 good reasons why The Stranglers have survived.