The PopCult Listening Room
by The Stranglers
Available as Vinyl LP, CD or Download
I did not expect to be reviewing a new album by The Stranglers in 2021. I’ve been a fan of the band for over 40 years, and was very sad last year when their keyboardist, Dave Greenfield, died from Covid early in the pandemic. I was not aware that they’d been working on a new batch of songs since 2018, and it was a pleasant surprise when I got a pre-release notice from them earlier in the summer.
Dark Matters is the first Stranglers album since the retirement of their founding drummer, Jet Black, and it includes eight tracks with keyboards recorded by Greenfield before his death. Its actually their first full album since 2012.
The Stranglers are survivors of the original 1970s UK punk scene, and they survived by evolving. They always had prog-rock leanings due to the keyboard artistry of Greenfield, and and as the 80s progressed, they grew musically to the point where, at times, they sounded more like Pink Floyd than Pink Floyd did.
The band survived the exit of their frontman, Hugh Cornwell, in 1990, and the 2006 departure of his replacement, Paul Roberts, and through all of it they managed to release reliably excellent albums every few years. Dark Matters is the latest, and it is stunning work.
Musically, the album ranges from pure, classic Stranglers on the songs “Water,” “This Song,” If Something’s Gonna KIll Me (It Might As Well Be Love),” and “No Man’s Land.” That style melds smart lyrics with thumping basslines and catchy elements of pop music with a harder edge.
The gut-wrenching song on the album is “And If You Should See Dave,” a tribute to the band’s late keyboard player. It’s a mellow groove with trademark Stranglers’ riffs and achingly poignant lyrics. You can see the video here…
Another standout is the brief and lovely, “Lines,” which in another reflection on aging and mortality.
There is no “bum track” on the album, as every song is remarkable in its own way. “White Stallion” sounds like pure, vintage New Wave, with a bizarre auto-tuned vocal break that could almost be a contribution from the blue Diva in “The Fifth Element.”
LP and CD copies of Dark Matters include a bonus CD tribute to Greenfield, with 8 live recordings from the last seven years, including two songs from this album, recorded in 2019. The Download version has four bonus cuts, which are acoustive versions of songs from the album.
Dark Matters is an excellent album, a must-have for any Stranglers fan, and well worth listening for anybody who wants to hear sophisticated and powerful music with roots in punk and prog-rock.