Monday, 2 March 2015

7 inch singles collection: The Stranglers - Golden Brown

A punk waltz?


A-Side: Golden Brown
B-Side: Love-30

(Liberty 1982)

So, were The Stranglers punk, or not? Certainly they were initially lumped in with that scene despite them being older, and less angry than many of their contemporaries. They had the sneering attitude all right, but they also had something else that set them apart from the others. Dave Greenfield’s organ playing is part of this in a landscape that is normally harsh and often discordant guitars it brings an other-worldy patina to Stranglers records. Beyond this, though, there’s a feeling in their records that they’re men playing at being boys, rather than boys playing at being men like most punk bands. Their maturity comes to the fore quite soon in their career, and songs like Peaches and Grip, (with their “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” style), disappear for more complex pieces, both lyrically and musically. Not that I’m saying that the rest of the punk upper echelons weren’t literate and intelligent, many were as we will find out later, it’s just that they kept to the basic thrash it out sound explosion for much longer than The Stranglers did.

All of which leads me to Golden Brown – for a few years The Stranglers singles had been not reaching the higher chart places of their earlier material, then suddenly this record appeared and managed to earn them their highest ever chart placing (a number 2 no less).  It’s unusual time signature (almost but not quite waltz time) rises and falls, it catches your hand as it waltzes pass and sends you spinning into the song. It feels simultaneously both pretty and subversive – we now know that it’s probably about Heroin, but that doesn’t detract from the record in any way, because the lyrics are non-specific enough for it actually to be about anything you want, some dusky exotic maiden or a new colour of non-drip gloss from Dulux. Take your pick, and let the music take you on a heady magic carpet ride.

Tennis and The Stranglers seem to be an unlikely combination, but they are brought together on Love-30. This is a largely instrumental track that’s full of echo and effect like backwards guitars. The drums provide the most consistent sound, emphasised by the occasional bass twang. Every now and then there’s the sound of a tennis ball being hit, and “out” being called. The pace is quite languid, and none of the frenetic energy that you would normal associate with a tennis match. In truth Love-30 is an inconsequential bit of noise that doesn’t last long enough to be annoying.

So were The Stranglers punk? Probably not, but they were certainly canny enough to allow themselves to flow with that particular stream for their advantage.

Next time another Golden record…

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