Punk Features

Ten reasons why 10 by the Stranglers is ofTEN on my turntable

Roger Kasper writes a love letter to this oft-underrated album..

It’s the most maligned Stranglers album. No-one has a good word to say about. Every fortnight someone will start a post on a Facebook forum referring to the best/worst long player. And guess which album doesn’t come in at Number One. Yes, ‘10‘.

A recent article by the clickbait-tastic Loudersound – listing ‘The Stranglers’ albums you should definitely own’ had ‘10‘ as ‘one to avoid’. Loudersound listens to the crowd and offered little new, going with the usual suspects of the first four albums as the four best.

So I thought I’d turn things on their head and write my love letter to ‘10‘.

Why is it so hated? Why is it referred to as ‘simply stale and boring.’ And why did no track from ‘10‘ feature on the recent 50th anniversary tour? Are there no redeeming features? Well, yes, there are. And here, with – hopefully – an, at times, wry take on it is my paean to the final moments of the Classic Stranglers Line-Up*.

Released in March 1990, on Epic Records, ‘10‘ peaked at No 15 (just five short of that magic number) and spent four weeks in the album chart. It came nearly four years after ‘Dreamtime‘ and was, er, eagerly awaited.

The Stranglers in 1990 - courtesy of The Stranglers (Official)

When I have a moment to spin a disc or play a CD what is one of my go-to Stranglers albums to play? Yes it’s ‘10‘. So why do I like it?

1. The cover. It’s amazing. All four members are dressed up as notable world leaders. JJ Burnel as Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher and Benazir Bhutto…what’s not to like? Jet Black as Yasser Arafat and Joshua Nkomo – blacked up, he would be cancelled now. The Stranglers being daring as per usual.

2. The powerful bass sound. Roy Thomas Baker had famously produced Queen’s ‘A Night At The Opera‘ and was brought in to give the Stranglers a sound that might appeal to America, who lapped up Queen. Last throw of the dice? Christ, if The Clash could break the States why couldn’t the Guildford Four? Subsequent, post-Hugh Cornwell albums can be criticised for lacking bass but ‘10‘ delivers. Plus JJ, according to Hugh, had to do re-takes when RTB wasn’t happy with his playing. (Insert Meninblack laugh here). From the opening bar of ‘Someone Like You‘, there’s no escaping the four strings. It’s bass-centric. Don’t we love that bass sound Stranglers fans?

3. ‘Man of the Earth‘. What. A. Song. It’s right up there with the best. Easily comparable with ‘The Meninblack (Waitin’ For ‘Em)‘; ‘Enough Time‘; ‘Ain’t Nothin’ To It‘ and ‘Mad Hatter‘. Seriously, it’s a corker and among my faves (yes, don’t worry, I prefer ‘Something Better Change‘, I’m not that off the wall!). It was slated as the third single from the album but the label poo-poohed it. Could have saved the band if it was a hit. I blame Epic.

4. The singles. Imagine if ‘MOTE‘ was a single, following in the giddy footsteps of ‘96 Tears‘ and ‘Sweet Smell of Success‘. ‘96 Tears‘ has been covered by bands such as ? And the Mysterians and the single came…in a tin can. Genius marketing which made it hard to store among my collection. And ‘Sweet Smell of Success‘ became a single because of the reaction of fans on the tour as it was the set opener. It also came in 12” form and I love it because, the other day, I bought it for two quid and inside was a ‘10‘ poster signed by the band. Watch out eBay.

(The Stranglers also made a rather brilliant and quirky video for 96 Tears – ed.)

5. 10 was the TENTH album – original or what? – and featured 10 songs. The synergy is amazing. Just remember, doubters, that Pearl Jam’s ‘10‘ album was their debut. Why wasn’t it called One? And it has 11 tracks, albeit one is hidden. But the lack of synergy is breathtaking.

6. Gapless playback. Not an expression I would have used in 1990, but now made famous by Spotify. There are no gaps between the tracks, which means there is extra energy and momentum to the album. If only this had happened on ‘No More Heroes‘ – it would have elevated it no end.

7. Dave Greenfield‘s keyboards on ‘Someone Like You‘ – first aired on the tour before the album – with the swish at the end which could just go on for ever.

96 Tears in a tin
96 Tears in a tin - marketing genius or moment of madness?

8. ‘Too Many Teardrops‘. Another synergy moment. Too many teardrops is a lyric in ‘96 Tears‘ and is also a track. Pearl Jam never achieved these heights.

9. ‘Let’s Celebrate‘ does just that – makes you want to celebrate. I bounce around the living room when this song spins on my turntable. I love it and it is comparable to Robbie Williams’ ‘Millenium‘ moment – it should have been massively picked up by the TV incidental music boffins. The spoken section always sends shivers down my spine.

10. JJ name checks himself in ‘Where I Live‘, the first time – other than on Tits – that he has made it into a Stranglers song. Was he conscious of this and wanting to redress the balance before the inevitable split? Hugh had two under his belt – on ‘Choosey Susie‘ and ‘Something Better Change‘ – and Dave had one on ‘Go Buddy Go‘. So he must have felt left out. What better place to close the loop than on ‘10‘.

And that’s just 10 points I’ve made, without going on to mention the psychedelia – ‘In This Place‘ and ‘Out Of Mind‘ are spaced out, man. The brilliant closer ‘Never To Look Back‘ and the additional tracks and b-sides that fill out the CD re-issues.

In short, you may think I’m out of my mind, but Someone Like You should give this album a break. Instead Of This there’s only efforts like ‘Rattus Norvegicus‘, ‘The Raven‘, ‘Black and White‘ and ‘No More Heroes‘ that come anywhere near it.

Ok, it may have been the final nail in the classic Stranglers coffin, and the supporting tour was flat to say the least (I saw them at Southend and ‘flat’ was being kind. Certainly I wasn’t inspired to go to Ally Pally for THAT** gig, preferring a sunny side up day on Broadstairs beach). But throw away your prejudices, ignore the masses who pour scorn on the album because everyone-but-Hugh hated it, and give it a spin. Dare you!

* Note: Classic Line-Up is: Jet Black, JJ Burnel, Hugh Cornwell, Dave Greenfield. The original line-up is, of course: Jet Black, JJ Burnel, Hugh Cornwell, Hans Axel Wärmling.

** Hugh Cornwell’s final appearance with The Stranglers.

The Stranglers in 1989 - via Stranglers (Official)
The Stranglers in 1989 - courtesy of The Stranglers (Official)
  1. Sweet Smell of Success
  2. Someone Like You
  3. 96 Tears (written by Rudy Martinez)
  4. In This Place
  5. Let’s Celebrate
  6. Man of the Earth
  7. Too Many Teardrops
  8. Where I Live
  9. Out of My Mind
  10. Never to Look Back
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