Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
A two fingered salute by the youth against the Establishment and a time of Progressive Rock giants that roamed the Earth, Punk was always something that caught the zeitgeist.
Whilst the spirit of punk is still very much in evidence, few of the bands still survive from that original wave, most having burnt themselves out. Amongst those still as fresh and relevant today are The Stranglers, the outfit releasing high quality material throughout their long career and seemingly constantly on the road, playing out to sold out venues.
This latest release from the band is another highpoint in an almost fifty year career and one that sees itself heavily laden with poignancy following the passing of long time keyboard player Dave Greenfield last year, ‘Dark Matter’ being his last recording.
In a double blow, this is the first album not to feature the drumming of Jet Black, the sticksman having been a studio only member of the band since stepping back from live work in 2015.
Despite this hanging over their heads, Jean-Jacques Burnel, Baz Warne and Jim Macaulay have produced something that perfectly captures their trademark sound, the dark menace and musical craftwork front and centre.
Never seeming to age, the band sound as fresh and up for a ruck as ever as first number ‘Water’ proves. Rolling and jagged, it pushes Greenfields keys to the fore, adding his usual adept splashes of colour whilst Burnel pumps out his menacing bass.
The following ‘This Song’ continues in this rambunctious mood, swirling and snarling, the pace changing with the heart breaking ‘And If You Should See Dave…’ as it pays bittersweet and elegiac tribute to their fallen friend in the most arresting fashion.
The presence of Greenfield seems larger than ever, his playing standing out in glorious relief. How much of this is perceived and how much is something that was actually pushed forward little matters as it gives us one last welcome chance to appreciate just how good he was and the vital role he played in shaping the band’s sound.
Throughout the album, it’s not just the playing that dazzles, the writing and production is jaw dropping too, each song a wonderful mini epic in its own right. Of course, being The Stranglers there’s never the scent of anything overly portentous or overblown and they’d probably blanch at the thought of some Jim Steinmanesque approach to the material.
Truth be told, ‘If Something’s Gonna Kill Me (It Might As Well be Love)’ sounds like a song title from a Meat Loaf album but is much smarter, it’s cool wistfulness a glorious and brittle reminder of just how good this writing is.
After the flicknife attitude of the brawling and pugnacious ‘No Man’s Land’, the brief and gorgeous ‘The Lines’ is sing song storytelling and ‘Payday’ a delightfully multi-coloured confection buoyed a driving beat that practically dances and some razor sharp lyrics.
Following the ‘anything goes’ pattern born from their inventive patchwork of different songs, the elegant and sparse ‘Down’ is a soothing balm and ‘The Last Man On The Moon’ is a rolling almost (say it quietly) pop song that constantly shifts in an ever unfolding tapestry.
The soaring and unfeasibly grand ‘White Stallion’ fills the senses with its cathedral filling sound, complete with choir and closing number ‘Breathe’ will, aptly enough, leave you breathless. Big, ballsy and emotional, it somehow manages to be achingly intimate whilst towering like a colossus over the globe.
Genuinely, The Stranglers couldn’t have brought out a better album than ‘Dark Matter’ and it could well be one of the finest things they’ve ever achieved.
It might be a long way through their ever-impressive career, but this is arguably their masterpiece, equal to anything in those heady early days. Dave Greenfield would have been proud and is doubtless looking down at his old friends and smiling. You can’t really get better than that.
Pre-order Dark Matters now: https://stranglers.tmstor.es/