Hugh Cornwell

Mayday

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Ex-Strangler Hugh Cornwell has spent a lot of years doing considerably less than his supporters believe him capable of -- a belief that is, nevertheless, sustained by the sheer magnificence of the music that he does deign to release. Mayday, recorded live in Manchester, England, in 1998, is another significant addition to that canon, an utterly uncluttered trawl through material drawn (primarily) from that year's Guilty album, but topped and tailed by four songs from 1979's Nosferatu and one from the then-unrecorded Hi Fi -- "The Big Sleep," a tribute to actor Robert Mitchum. Clear sound and a tight band dismiss almost all the little demons one normally associates with live albums -- even Cream's "White Room," a song that has never sat comfortably within his repertoire, clicks with energy, while the opening "Irate Caterpillar" has a tautness reminiscent of '80s-era King Crimson, as guitarists Cornwell and Mike Polson duel with anthemic intent. Stunning, too, is the closing "Gone Dead Train," a firestorm of fretwork taken at a pace that makes contemporary Stranglers sound...well, strangled. Live albums by artists of Cornwell's vintage are, after all, usually nothing more than soul-less retreads, interspersed with half-drowned attempts to recapture the "good old days." According to Mayday, these are the good old days, and Cornwell's got a long way to go before he'll be ready to rest back on these laurels.

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