The Stranglers

Norfolk Coast

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Celebrating the Stranglers' 30th anniversary, Norfolk Coast -- the veteran U.K. punk ensemble's first album in six years -- may lack the magic of the many discs the group made with original frontman Hugh Cornwell in tow, but it's still respectable in its own right. While Paul Roberts gives his own pub rock style to the vocal duties Cornwell left behind in 1990, it's bassist/lyricist Jean Jacques Burnel who is the spark that kindles the band's latest achievement. Burnel's aggressive rhythms give life -- along with Dave Greenfield's proven keyboard abilities -- to the title opener and they resonate throughout, but "Big Thing Coming" is a vibrant rocker of its own, courtesy of new guitar wizard Baz Warne and the machine-gun drumming of Jet Black. Sure, "Long Black Veil" is sluggish pop -- but the Stranglers have always transcended this form, as evidenced by 1984's "Skin Deep" and 1986's iconic "Always the Sun." Matters trend downward by the time the lackluster blues number "Dutch Moon" arrives, and "Into the Fire" is disappointing, anonymous rock. In a nutshell, Norfolk Coast is hit and miss. Yet there are enough moments of redemption here (the scorching "Lost Control" and the scathing manifesto "I Don't Agree" among them) to give a nod of approval to this legendary troupe.

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