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The Stranglers “Rattus Norvegicus”

Rattus Norvegicus

Rattus Norvegicus doesn’t have a huge audience in America. It’s a record passed over by a lot of rock aficionados, and swarms of gob spitting punk purists haven’t heard a note of its snarl. How did this happen? It’s got all the right ingredients – songs of alienation, angst, attitude and anarchy archetypes. Hell, it’s even oozing with pre-punk psychedelic rock influences like The Doors, with a Manzarek like organ carrying its melodies along in a drunken stupor. The problem may be that (despite its influences) the album, like The Stranglers themselves, was a little too British. It’s an ethnocentric disease that’s paralyzed American music lovers from the ears down for decades. Groups like The Kinks, The Jam and The Stranglers never amassed the amount of attention from U.S. audiences that they rightfully deserved. Shame. They were talented, hungry and damn fine rock stars.

The record (which is named after the scientific labeling of a type of Norway rodent) is hard to pin down. It has the edge of an expletive laden punk EP and the long sweeping takes of your standard prog-rock concept album. The opening lyrics on their debut track “Sometimes” cuts in on the heavy organ crutch and grinding Peter Gunn style bass with a lip curled, “Someday I’m gonna smack your face. Somebody’s gonna call your bluff. Somebody’s gonna treat you rough.” The beauty of Rattus Norvegicus can be found here, with its ability to simultaneously affront and appease. The band’s sweet and sour take on the burgeoning punk movement would become a calling card for subsequent albums and would set them apart from the cookie-cutter one act groups forming at the time.

The star of the show is easily “Peaches”, a song that drips attitude with a schoolboy’s playful demeanor. The track may have confused some audiences into thinking that, lyrically speaking, The Stranglers were a sexist group of misanthropes who were quick to criticize any and every race, creed and belief structure. In actuality Hugh Cromwell, Jet Black, Jean-Jacques Burnel and crew were amateur satirists commenting on society at a confusing time in England’s history. Had it not been for the run ins with the law and being acquaintances of the notorious Finchley Boys street gang, people might have seen the lyrics for a song like “Ugly” as observant or hilarious.

But when you hear the lyrics “I guess I shouldn’t have strangled her to death, but I had to go to work and she laced my coffee with acid” out of context, you can’t be blamed for your assumptions.

Rattus Norvegicus doesn’t follow a straight and uncompromising journey into the abyss, a point of view that most punks initially adopted at that time. Instead the record is a cornucopia of surprising solos and swells of melody. “Princess of the Streets” seems completely disjointed from entries like “Goodbye Toulouse”, a song that hints at the future sound of the band and a lot of the brilliance they already had as songwriters. Punk was something that can be nailed to a particular style, a particular time and a certain type of attitude. Well in The Stranglers’ defense, Cromwell has been cited as saying that they never considered themselves punks. Their later albums delving into more pop friendly waters (as well as the production of a few concept albums) should come as no surprise then. Why should they be nailed to the punk rock cross when they never considered themselves its apostles to begin with?

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Iggy Pop “The Idiot”

The Idiot

Iggy Pop’s “The Idiot” is a record that breaks a lot of rules musically. It’s sweet but classless. It’s reminiscent as well as groundbreaking. Its sound is timeless as it is dated. This album will make you as confused as the mad men who wrote it. This is classic Iggy for the main reason that it’s nothing like he’s done before. It’s immediately likable for that best of reasons: because you don’t have a clear-cut idea of why you like it.

As soon as “Sister Midnight” kicks in, the influences of the album’s co-author are evident. David Bowie (specifically of the Berlin Trilogy variety) touched this project. The man produced it and shares writing royalties from the first to last track, and it’s heard throughout.

This undoubtedly had a major hand in pop’s new direction, but that’s not to undermine the growth of Iggy as an artist.

This record showcases a lyrical prowess that wasn’t always expressed with The Stooges. Maybe it was the lack of the machine gun guitars, presence of the more soulful Bowie (prevalent on the track“Tiny Girls”) or the stay in the mental hospital that changed him, but pop music morphed.

“Nightclubbing” has a heartbeat intro that slowly bleeds life into the rest of the arrangement. It rises like a sedated Frankenstein and moves heavily towards Iggy’s lyrics – which have him sounding like he’s singing in an S & M themed karaoke bar. The song, along with “Funtime” and “Dum Dum Boys”, sets the stage for the new theme of the record – Iggy’s taking his time. He’s going to sing these songs slow and steady, fused with a new baritone and an amazing grasp of minimalist songwriting. “China Girl” is a perfect example. Take in the lines of any of these songs at face value and they can be dismissed just as easily as they were ingested. Accept the flaws and you will be rewarded.

Some may long for the frenzied sound of Raw Power. Some may dismiss the otherworldliness that reels in “Mass Production” – the closing track. But deserters will miss out on a lot of what makes The Idiot such an iconic album…the mood.
Iggy would make another record (the also brilliant Lust For Life) with Bowie at the helm the same year before moving on. Both are poignant because they accomplish a true rarity: a recording that is testament to a time when an artist had nothing to lose.

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