The Stranglers – Rattus Norvegicus
Released April 15th, 1977 on United Artists Records
The Stranglers came up rough-and-tumble in the English pub rock scene of the mid-1970s, and it shows. The band formed in 1974 after drummer Brian “Jet Black” Duffy made a ton of money operating a fleet of ice cream trucks. His business success convinced him to get back into drumming, something he had done semi-professionally through the 1950s and 1960s, and he scoured the region looking for potential bandmates. What came together was originally called the Guildford Stranglers and played a regular gig at The Jackpot, an offie that Duffy also owned and operated. After gaining a bit of a following they managed to merge in with the emergent punk rock scene in 1976-1977 to become one of the more memorable First Wave bands.
Rattus Norvegicus, their first album, encapsulates everything that is right and wrong with the external identification of the band with the scene they found themselves in. First, what is wrong. The Stranglers, unlike their contemporaries, were not afraid to get crazy with the keyboards; the band’s sound is as much Dave Greenfield’s manic-Doors keyboard playing as it is Jean-Jacques Burnel’s bouncy, fiercely melodic bass playing. The intro to “Princess Of The Streets” is a gorgeous, haunting arpeggio feature that you would never catch the Clash using, and it’s written in 6/8 time, which is about as un-punk as you can really get. Their music was as much about the Doors and the Kinks as it was about ripping the pub apart and getting the lager lads going.
Then again there are aspects of their music that fit right in with where everyone else was at in 1977. For one thing, Rattus Norvegicus is an incredibly violent record. “Sometimes” is about a knock-down, drag-out physical fight between boyfriend and girlfriend. “Goodbye Tolouse” is a raucous good tune about Nostradamus’ predicted destruction of the aforementioned French city. “Ugly” is a clashing, destructive song that lives up to it’s name in spades. It has great depictions of the “street scene” of the time: “Hanging Around” and “(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)” are both descriptive songs about the life the band was leading during the recording of the album. There’s also the English punk preoccupation with reggae: “Peaches” is heavily influenced by contemporary reggae records although the use of Greenfield’s brittle-glass keyboard sound adds a keening, paranoid vibe to the bounce.
The Stranglers would go on to hit greater heights (peaking with 1982’s “Golden Brown”) but Rattus Norvegicus sets them up as a band – propulsive and yet oddly romantic, violent and a little jaded from the streets. 1977 featured some very impressive debuts – and this definitely ranks among them.