“Whatever happened to our heroes . . . ” They made a new album, that’s what. You’ll be able to track down ‘No More Heroes’ next week, when it slinks into your local record shop.
But now, to bait your appetite, we have a special sneak preview of the album, straight from the rodent’s mouths – Stranglers in chief Hugh Cornwell and Jean-Jacques Burnel.
‘I Feel Like A Wog’
Hugh: “We met this guy in Hamburg called Pimpo. He thought we were a big band at that time, which we weren’t, and we kidded him we were this other band so that he would sell us some women.
In the end he was getting really worried because he couldn’t work out who we were, and he was annoyed because this other band hadn’t turned out. He had all these women lined up, and he wouldn’t give them to us because we had no money.
“So I tried to tell him some jokes to cheer him up, and he didn’t understand them. He just kept asking questions about things that had happened earlier in the joke.
“He looked at me like I was really strange, like I was a foreigner, and I felt really alien, like a wog, you know. The word wog was introduced to distinguish certain people from other people, and I started thinking about how people are made to feel the same way. Alienation.
I wanted to be more English
Jean Jacques: “I’ve been a wog all my life. My parents are French. At school I was treated like a wog, because my mother used to kiss me at the school gates, and I had shorts as well – really short. It used to freak me out, because I wanted to be more English than the English.
“Then I realised this is crazy, you know, I might as well be who I am.
“It wasn’t too bad for me because I’m white and it was only people who knew we were French. It was only at school. It still hassled me though – so God knows how black people feel sometimes.”
Hugh: “You should really talk to the lyrical writer of the songs, and the lyrics of ‘Bitching’ are Jean’s. The song is just grousing about the tin gods we met while we were struggling to get gigs.
Jean Jacques: “We came in on the tail end, the very tail end of the pub scene, and we started gigging around. It was difficult for us to get jobs on that scene, because we had short hair and we didn’t play the kind of music that was accepted.
“We didn’t know anyone, we didn’t get introduced to anyone. We weren’t part of it, we were by ourselves.
“I also found that the promoters just didn’t know what they were talking about, and they treated us like dirt. The audiences were pretty bad sometimes – they were so narrow minded in their attitudes. They couldn’t understand us.
“So ‘Bitching’ is just about all the shit-heads we met.”
Hugh: “A dead ringer is someone who looks exactly like someone else, so it’s about a few experiences we’ve had where we’ve asked people about things they’ve been quoted as saying and they go, ‘No it wasn’t me mate’, Or you say, ‘Didn’t I see you doing that?’ and they say no, and the answer is, they must be the spitting image of someone who did.”
Jean Jacques: “Dead Ringer’s about certain bands or certain people who say what they’re about when they’re not.
“Like people who say, ‘Was it you who’s proud of being poor?’ and they make a big deal of it, because they know there’s a market for it.
“Like the old wave bands have done it – I mean the old wave new wave. There’s five main bands – the Pistols, the Clash, the Damned, the Jam and ourselves, and everyone’s taking their examples from us, opinion and attitude wise.
“I’m very suspicious of motives. Now, there’s a lot of bands adopting stances that others have come to more naturally. Attitudes they’ve adopted overnight.
“Dead Ringer’s’ about hypocrisy.”
Hugh: “Dagenham Dave was this spade guy from Manchester who put an end to himself one night because – well, I don’t know his motives, but I know he was very depressed with life. The only thing that pleased him was the fact that we were getting more popular.
“He came to all our gigs when we were first getting started last year. He was a scaffolder who’d done so many things.
“He’d been to a lot of places, lived through a lot of existences. He was 30, and he just felt he’d had enough experiences for one life.
“In the end they dragged him out of the Thames after three weeks, just a bag of mush. He jumped off Tower Bridge.”
he was a maniac
Jean Jacques: He was an amazing bloke. He lived in this hotel room for £25 a week with his old lady Brenda, and he was a maniac. He was such a genuine guy, and he was so intelligent, but he’d just go bananas. He had this amazing collection of records which he never played – they were all in mint condition.
“He was a real rock ‘n’ roll hero. He used to earn a hundred quid a week, and one night he blew a hundred and twenty quid just on having a good time. He was broke the next week, but he didn’t care – he didn’t give a damn.
“He was on ‘Go Buddy Go’. The single was really poxy compared to the other recordings of it that we’ve done since, but he just turned up that night and freaked out the whole studio, and we forgot about recording and just had a good time with Dagenham Dave.
“It freaks me out to think that a guy I was so into killed himself. It’s like an insult, you know, because it’s like he didn’t believe we were there.”
‘Bring On The Nubiles’
Hugh: “A nubile is a girl who personifies the innocence and charm of a flowering girl. They can be any age but they have it, somehow. It’s a song in praise of that.
“A lot of women become very jaded when they’re over a certain age, so nubility is definitely not a thing that lasts. It’s a transient thing.
“Men are like red wine – they get better with age. Girls are like white wine – they only taste good when drunk young. Maybe that’s the quandary that girls always have and always will be in . . . what happens when they lose that quality. Maybe that’s their sad fate.”
Jean Jacques: The Stranglers are the band to call sexist, aren’t they? Spare Rib really put us down, you know – I’m sure they’re a load of dikes over there. That’s a really cliched attitude, but they’re often the truest.
“Boots and W.H. Smith’s were going to ban the album because of the lyrics on this track.”
‘Something Better Change’
Hugh: “Yeah, that one’s on it too. It’s just about attitudes.”
Jean Jacques: “It speaks for itself.”
‘No More Heroes’
Hugh: “you should be your own hero. If you become a hero, people don’t see you for what you are, they look at you in a different light. You cease to become human to them, and that’s wrong.
“There are two bad ways to treat a human being – you can either treat them like dirt, or you can treat them so good that you’re not treating them as human beings either. Human beings aren’t Gods.
“Having heroes is like a cop out. It’s seeing something in someone else. But people should be striving to get that in themselves.”
Jean Jacques: “It’s a slogan as well as a title. We try to live without the star system, and we succeed quite well. I think.”
‘Burning Up Time’
Hugh: It’s about people wanting to utilize their time in the best possible way, because it’s running out fast. Every minute counts. There was a guy who was in the Army who took the most boring job, which was peeling potatoes, because it made each moment last so long, and he really enjoyed living.”
Jean Jacques: It’s about not living safely, about doing everything as it comes to you. It’s a speed song. You burn yourself up if you don’t play safe.
“If you hear the other side of the single ‘No More Heroes’ you’ll see what I mean. It’s called ‘In The Shadows’ and it’s going to freak everyone out because it’s totally unexpected.
“It’s got to change, because it’s getting like a parody of itself in Britain, and things mustn’t get stale.”
Hugh: “It’s like a very sad feeling you sometimes get when you’re very used up, and when you haven’t had a good sexual feeling for a while. You find the feelings, but they’re not the ones you really want . . . ‘no love in a thousand girls’ is one of the lines in it, and ‘The dogs try to possess us.’ The dogs are the London ladies.”
Jean Jacques: It’s about love – love being debased so that there’s no such thing. The word is thrown round much too easily. If there’s so much love in the world, where is it? If there was more love about, people would stop ripping each other off, and nations would be much more sensitive to other nations.”
‘Peasant In The Big Shitty’
Hugh: “It’s about being a peasant, and it has very psychedelic lyrical patterns, where reality’s doubted, and you don’t know what’s real any more. People sometimes aren’t real. The city is London because that was our big shitty.”
Jean Jacques: “It’s specifically about us being poor, and having just come to London. And besides that, being on acid.”
Hugh: “That’s a piece of dialogue about a situation in a school where the teachers calls one of the kids to stay behind and help after class, and they start getting it on.
“The mistress who’s in charge of the school has video screens in all the classrooms, and she sees what they’re doing. And instead of calling the police, she starts watching it, getting off on it, and she ends up having an orgasm, which she’s never had before in life.
“She’s about 80, and she dies in front of the screen with a smile on her face. That’s the best way to go – to die having an orgasm. It must be. I’ve never done it, but it must be the way to go.”
Jean Jacques: You know Hugh was kicked out of school for perverting the kids? He was kicked out of this tutorial college for being a bad influence on the kids, for being an undesirable.”
Hugh: The album is an advancement. We’ve used synthesiser on four or five tracks – we’re using it onstage now as well. It’s given us a new dimension and some new ideas too – about the structure of the songs.
“On the B-side of the single – well, it’s a double A-side, but it’s the one that won’t get played very much, I’m sure, is ‘In The Shadows’, a very rhythmic, experimental piece of music with a lot of synthesiser.
“The synthesiser’s sparked us into a new field. We still write songs, but that’s because we want people to tell us whether we’ve still got a song there. We’ve changed a lot of basic things about the song, the structure, the fitting of lyrics to music, the timing, and things like that.
“And if it’s a success we’ll develop that more on the next album. We want to explore new territory instead of writing pretty little songs for the next 10 years. We could do that, quite easily, but we want to explore, we want to learn too.
“Synthesisers up till now have been associated with psychedelic, heady music that has no direction. We want to give it direction.”
Record Mirror, 17/09/77
The Stranglers’ appeal for me always lay in their dirt. Dirt on their faces, dirt in their attitudes, dirt in their music, dirt in their words.
Of course Hugh don’t slob any more now and the rat on the inner sleeve of ‘No More Heroes’ is nice and clean. They throw in, natch, a ‘controversial’ song, ‘Bring On The Nubiles’ but the rest varies from too-polished pop to fake dirt.
There’s a couple of tracks that are good enough to have fitted onto ‘Rattus Norvegicus’ – ‘Peasant In The Big Shitty’ and maybe ‘No More Heroes’ despite its strict bass jingle-jangle keyboard formula.
The rest is either average Stranglers which is still quite good, or crappy Stranglers which is crappy whichever way you look at it.
To stick to the positive side ‘Peasant In The Big Shitty’ represents some sort of ‘progression’ that could bode well – the psychedelics of the staggered vocals and slightly less cliched keyboard approach. Unfortunately most rat worshippers have got it already – the live version was given away with the first album.
‘No More Heroes’ is lyrically a bit stupid because heroes are as rife as ever in 1977 hidden in the guise of the anti-hero – the Stranglers themselves. But Hugh Cornwell’s vocals display a streak of reasonable convincing anger and Jean-Jacques Burnel is on form enough to dredge up a bit of grubby magic.
As for the rest it’s not utterly disappointing, just a bit flat. Really it’s a second album that might have been their first, the pitfalls are so frequent.
The bitter, gutsy choruses of ‘Peaches’ and ‘London Lady’ are replaced with the pop harmonies of ‘Bitching’, ‘Something Better Change’ and ‘Dagenham Dave’.
There’s even a recycled ‘Peaches’ riff on ‘Dead Ringer’ and only thinly disguised. The inspiration, where it can be found, is at half-cock and new ideas are few and far between.
The more I listen to it the more depressing it gets. ‘English Towns’, apparently about debased love, has zero to commend it except . . . except nothing.
It’s a crummy self-parody, it’s a crying shame. I’m still a Stranglers fan, I’ll go and see them whenever I can get in, and their first album remains a 1977 peak.
But ‘No More Heroes’ is a trough, a half-hearted attempt at nothing unless some sort of compromise to a ‘pop’ approach. Either way I don’t particularly want to hear it again. Take it away.
(Record Mirror, 24/09/77)