Regular readers know we like The Stranglers here, and that calling them a “punk” group might have been a stretch. By the 1980s, they’d clearly evolved into a competent pop/new wave band and even in the early days, pigeon-holing them was never Black & White. Which happened to be the title of their third album, which came out this day in 1978.
No one could have accused them of being lazy at that point, it was their third album in a mere 13 months with a couple of standalone singles mixed in there as well. Arguably, a little more time spent on this one might have been beneficial but all things considered, Black & White was an interesting step forward for them. As with their two previous releases, it was produced by Martin Rushent and like those records, it had plenty of fierce-seeming lyrics that had to make you wonder if they weren’t having us all on just a little bit. But they also put in some lighter tunes which pointed to the direction they’d soon take, on songs like “Sweden”. Guitarist and main vocalist Hugh Cornwell had studied at a Swedish university pre-group and they released a fittingly Swedish-language version of it (“Sveriege”) over there, helping the album be the only one from their ’70s catalog to chart in Scandinavia. The band seemed a bit more confident with their instruments and even keyboardist Dave Greenfield got a turn at the mic on “Do You Wanna?”. They played the menacing “Curfew” in 7/4 time. Besides “Sweden”, the more notable songs on the album however would be “Toiler on the Sea” (listen for the reference to a flock of seagulls in it that inspired a certain other band when looking for names), and the raunchy, probably tongue in cheek, bass-heavy “Nice N Sleazy”. As well as their take on Burt Bacharch & Hal David’s “Walk on By” which was memorable to those used to a Dionne Warwick rendition, and a 7” single not originally on the LP. However, they slid copies of the single into the first 75 000 copies of the album.
Most, but all of the reviews back then were positive. Record Mirror gave it 4-stars, and Melody Maker figured while not quite as good as the ones which came before, they gave them credit by showing they could “enlarge their ideas and still come up with good tunes.” The NME figured that at least the album’s A-side was “by far the best work they’ve ever done.” The Trouser Press, on the other hand, found it mostly “forgettable”, an “inferior rehash of earlier work”, except for the single “Nice N Sleazy.” Years later, allmusic concurred somewhat, giving it 2.5-stars, calling “In the Shadows” just “plain silly”, much of the album to be filler but still noting it had “some absolutely stunning moments.”
The British public liked it well enough. It hit #2 there and went gold quickly, while “Nice N Sleazy” hit #18 – their fifth top 20 hit in a year there – and lives on in fame or infamy online…if you dare, look up a live performance of it from a Batterslea concert, which shows what can happen when one of the members of a group has a stripper girlfriend and she has a few friends and they all have a few bottles of libation. “Walk on By”, which spurred on a few comparisons to the Doors (particularly Greenfield’s keyboard solo) got to #21 there.
The Stranglers took a bit more time putting together their next album, but the wait was worth it for fans; most consider The Raven the best of their ’70s works.