Could just as easily be a parting gift or the start of something new
11:57 8th September 2021
The Stranglers have been around for a while, but Dark Matters is their first studio effort in almost a decade. With nine years separating this album from 2012’s Giants, it’s the longest gap they’ve had between albums in a career that’s approaching fifty years.
Dark Matters is the first Stranglers album recorded without founding drummer Jet Black, who stepped back in 2015 and officially retired in 2018, while longstanding keyboardist Dave Greenfield died after being diagnosed with COVID-19 during a hospital stay last year. He, however, still appears on eight of the eleven tracks.
Black’s replacement, Jim Macaulay, has filled in on live performances over the last few years, and he makes his studio bow here. He’s an accomplished drummer and slots right in, clearly at home in the band after joining in on so many live dates in recent years.
Meanwhile, the rest of the band pay tribute to Greenfield on the track ‘And If You Should See Dave’, the third track on the album. It’s a mellow number almost in the post-Britpop vein, bells chiming to create a melancholic, wistful atmosphere that feels appropriate and very much works.
It follows on from ‘This Song’, actually a cover of The Disciples of Spess’ ‘This Song Will Get Me Over You’, which starts off with the sort of post-punk sneer that feels right at home among modern players in the scene like Shame and Fontaines D.C. before leading into an anthemic chorus. It’s an improvement on the opener ‘Water’, which is a solid enough track—Greenfield’s excellent keyboard playing being a particular highlight—but perhaps runs on a little too long.
‘The Last Men On the Moon’, at five-and-a-half minutes in length, stands out from the pack. “Imagine when they colonise the moon” sings current frontman Baz Warne on this cinematic space-rock track that feels like a call-to-arms, while ‘If Something’s Gonna Kill Me (It Might As Well Be Love)’ incorporates jazz and orchestral influences. If it fell into the wrong hands it could risk sounding like a 21st century Morrissey album track, but The Stranglers really make it their own and bring it to life.
The album as a whole has an uplifting feel, and could just as easily be a parting gift or the start of something new. Admittedly, The Stranglers aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel here, but nobody really expects them to. We’re nearly twenty albums in, and longstanding fans won’t be surprised by what they hear. It’s bold, however, and it definitely doesn’t feel as if the band have played it as safe as they could have—something they deserve credit for.
It’s hard to put Dark Matters in a box. While The Stranglers might be thought of first and foremost as a punk band (they opened for the Ramones and Patti Smith back in their earlier days) and while there’s plenty of punk candour here, it’s blended with the experimental post-punk of some of their post-70s output, as well as arena rock and even a bit of jazz. It’s definitely worth a listen.