The Stranglers are arguably one of the finest bands to have come out Britain. The four men in black boast a huge dedicated following that turn up in their droves to gigs in this country and abroad and with albums and singles that have sold beyond measure. However even the most dedicated of Stranglers fans must have been surprised the direction the seventh studio album, Feline, took when released in the New Year of 1983.
The classic line up of the band which had seen them record stunning anthems and make albums as brilliant as The Raven, No More Heroes and The Gospel According to the Meninblack in the preceding years finally ended their association with E.M.I. after the release of La Folie and took on a new way of life with an album that more than nodded to the music that was dominating Europe and away from their Punk/Rock/Progressive roots. By making this statement of intent they showed the longevity that would see them survive in one form or another over the next 30 years.
The band had been on a high after the phenomenal release of Golden Brown, a firm fan favourite, and the gentle refrain of Strange Little Girl, two songs that to this day get a lot of calls from audiences at venues all over the British Isles. La Folie had been magnificent, a genuine piece of recording history by the band but it also saw a small decline in favouritism of the band as the album failed to make the Top Ten, the first album made by the band that would do so since the group started.
What happened next caught a lot of fans unawares. The adrenaline was about to leave the band, the octane fuelled anger which had served the band superbly on tracks such as No More Heroes, Nice ‘n’ Sleazy and the charming Peaches was going to be no more…at least for a while.
Feline took the rule book, admittedly made by the fans, and shredded it to pieces. This was to be an album that played with acoustic guitars and electro pop, this wasn’t the Stranglers that people had grown up listening to; this wasn’t Hugh Cornwell and J.J. Burnel trading death defying vocals and insanely brilliant tunes. However, in the best of music traditions it fed and gave so much to the overall package of the group that in the end it gave the group a much needed new lease of life that would certainly see them through to 1990’s 10.
Feline opens with a wistful Midnight Summer Dream which sees the band performing a song in the spoken word, a brave move perhaps, interesting certainly but something now that might not capture the imagination of a crowd at a live gig but it frames the album perfectly for what it is, a deliberate attempt to show that the band could be more than what people perceived and for that they deserve praise. It is also possible to see an influence that would become prominent in Hugh Cornwell’s solo albums that he would release after leaving the band.
The song that exemplifies this is the iconic and calm feel of Let’s Tango in Paris, the Eurocentric tune that gives the notion of a love song and the enticement of a promise dangling forever in the air of a night in one of Europe’s supposed romantic cities. The enticement is there but the promise never quite feels as though as it is going to be delivered as one of the lines suggests, “you might find yourself with me…” It also shows the great sense of humour and persuasive word play that the band possesses as the song is a play on words of the 1972 film Last Tango in Paris which starred Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider. The film that received an X certificate for its scenes of a sexual nature is parodied brilliantly by The Stranglers who lose all the innuendo and give it an almost displaced feel. If anything, even if the album isn’t one that the fans would want to hear live in its entirety, it showed the depth of creativity that the four members were more than capable of achieving.
Perhaps the best known song on the album that is the still played live is the outstanding The European Female (In Celebration Of). The song was the first released by the band for their new stable house of Epic and featured the delicate tones of J.J. Burnel on vocals. It defies the album by still having the essence of a Stranglers sound from the previous recordings but it sits well in amongst the other tracks. The music that accompanies the vocals is amongst the best that the band made during this period. The lyrics also are heightened and playful as in a future nod to the audience that would carry the group through the next few years.
As with Let’s Tango In Paris, The European Female saves its great reveal for towards the end of the song. As the song progresses, the vocals hint that to meet the ideal woman you have to go to the continent. J.J. Burnel sings of seeing her on the European equivalents of any road, the strasse and the rue but in the end he also sees her on the high street. This location placing statement seems to show that the band realised their stock was due to rise on the continent.
Although not as well received by the band it still gave The Stranglers another top-ten hit, finally peaking at number four. Brave and intelligent, Feline is a very good album in the pantheon of Stranglers recordings and full of surprises. An album that still deserves the respect it is due.
Ian D. Hall