The Stranglers

Suite XVI

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Among their brethren in the first graduating class of British punk, the Stranglers are one band who seem admirably uninterested in spiky-haired nostalgia. Rather than simply mining their past, the Stranglers continue to write and record fresh material in their trademark style, and 2006's Suite XVI (their 16th studio album, natch) features a full three-quarters of the lineup that recorded Rattus Norvegicus back in 1977 (even the "new guy," guitarist Baz Warne, had close to five years under his belt with the Stranglers by the time this disc hit the shops). Following the muscular-but-hooky pattern of the group's mid- to late-'80s commercial high point rather than the sinister lurch of their earliest stuff, Suite XVI is plenty lively and generates a good head of aggressive steam on most cuts, especially the bitter "Summat Outanowt" and the passionate opener "Unbroken." However, while the Stranglers are to be congratulated for keeping their muse alive and functioning, that doesn't change the fact Suite XVI sound annoyingly pro forma; while the band sounds as skillful as ever (especially Jean Jacques Burnel's thick bass and Jet Black's powerful drumming), they haven't learned a whole lot of new melodic tricks over the course of three decades, and Dave Greenfield still sounds like he wishes he was Ray Manzarek without getting any closer to reaching that goal. And the tunes feel like variations on a theme the Stranglers have been slowly wearing into the ground since the day they started; Suite XVI is the work of a band who still have the focus and wherewithal to continue what they started, but left their best ideas behind them years ago, and for all the craft on display, these guys are just going in circles as they run out of gas.

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