A mainstay of the mid-1970s punk scene, Guildford four-piece The Stranglers were often considered the illegitimate cousin of punk.
Viewed by many as bandwagon jumpers from the mainly pub-based blues rock scene, The Stranglers delivered an ugly, crude and violent interpretation of punk’s first generation.
Indeed The Stranglers’ early output can be viewed as an odd breed, born out by lyrics and themes that occasionally fell into crass misogyny mixed with curiously intellectualised misanthropy.
There are few better examples than the ever so sleazy “Peaches”, “Choosey Susie” and early album track “Princess of the Streets” – songs which today come across as rather dumb, embarrassing and unintentionally funny.
Yet despite their lyrical depths, Hugh Cornwell and Jean-Jacques Burnel also managed to pen some very witty and intense observations of life in mid-70s London.
Led by the most aggressive sounding bass of the early punk years and partnered to by an abrasive and lingering Hammond organ, The Stranglers had the power to drive home just how putrid the time was.
The feeling of disdain is amplified further by Cornwell’s slurred and sarcastic vocal delivery. Meanwhile, Burnel’s singing style often descended into a threatening guttural growl. Songs like “Get a Grip on Yourself”, Peasant in the Big Shitty”, Strange Little Girl” (written in 1974, but not released until 1982) “No More Heroes” and “Goodbye Toulouse” displayed a sobriety that would later become The Stranglers’ staple diet.
Closing Rattus Norvegicus – The Stranglers’ début album – was lengthy medley “Down in the Sewer”. Made up of four distinct sections, the song describes life in then contemporary London, referred to in this instance as “the sewer”.
As a story concept, it’s quite interesting, with the two-minute jam (Falling), leading to the song’s only lyrical section (Down in the Sewer), leading neatly the first keyboard solo (Trying to Get Out Again).
The final section (Rat’s Rally) allows keyboardist Dave Greenfield to expand his influence on the song, while backing trio of guitar, bass and drum intensify amidst the song’s close. The message is loud and clear when Cornwell’s delivers the final line of the album “…I’ll see you in the sewer…”
One of the finer versions of “Down in the Sewer” comes from a show by The Stranglers’ in 1979, while touring their fourth album The Raven.
Recorded at the Empire Theatre in Paris during mid-November, it shows the foursome at their growling, energetic peak, while also displayed vastly improved musicianship. It’s just a shame that Greenfield’s leading keyboard is rather low in the mix.
By the way, just because The Stranglers became more refined over the years, don’t believe for a moment that misogyny has disappeared.
If anything, it has become more prevalent, acting within pop’s undertones. Society’s garbage spewing nonsense peddler has merely put on a new jacket and combed his hair.
The Stranglers “Down in the Sewer” (Spotify link)