The Stranglers: European Female UK 7″ 
- European Female
- Savage Breast
The song that I can’t get out of my head today is an unlikely one from The Stranglers. I first encountered them via their tough and artistic magnum opus “Black & White.” The first song I heard was “Tank” and it was love at first note. There was an extremely belligerent point of view to The Stranglers music back then, but even so, the music was far more ornate than most of the Class of ’77. Credit Dave Greenfield’s excellent keyboards, which give the band a Doors feel, albeit heavier. Far, far heavier. They managed the neat trick of appealing to both the brainstem and the cerebellum. Sometimes all at once!
By the time that the band were at the end of their United Artists contract, their timing was expert as they were having their biggest hit ever after a career of ups and downs in their record sales over a five year period with their lilting waltztime hit “Golden Brown.” It’s one of the loveliest odes to heroin I’ve ever heard, and how many of those have crystalline harpsichord solos? The timing was right for Epic Records to pick the band up for the second phase of their career, and this was their debut single for the label. Unlike all of their other Epic singles, this one came in 7″ only, so there’s no extended version of the A-side.
Like “Golden Brown,” this is a highly melodic song that features bassist JJ Burnel at his most suave and Continental on his lead vocals. The guitars are acoustics, and in fact, are what drove the vibe on this song and its associated “Feline” album. Hugh Cornwell had just gotten some new acoustic guitars from a luthier who hit his sweet spot and that was the sound that propelled this batch of Stranglers material. So the bludgeoning bass of JJ Burnel was left behind and sweetly Spanish guitar stylings graced the ear as drummer Jet Black was juxtaposing Simmons electric drums against the heavily acoustic soundstage for those delightful frissons of contrast and tension.
Hugh himself has stated that he felt that the band was filling a void left by the now departed Roxy Music at this time, and that’s a pretty fair assessment. The sophistication of tracks like “European Female” are certainly congruent with the sort of material Roxy were proffering on their final albums. Of course, given the subject matter of this song, it drifts very close to the chanson territory that Burnel would explore in full six years later on his luxuriant “Un Jour Parfait” album. It’s an unfailingly pretty song, and though they don’t get pigeonholed often with that word, The Stranglers had indeed been seriously moving in this direction for the year prior with elements of the preceding “La Folie” album.
Credit should also go to Tony Visconti, whom the band picked to record and mix their work of this period. This song is subtle end elegant, not filled with obvious hooks and pandering chords, and yet it sits in my mind for the bulk of this day. Proof that aiming high can often hit just as hard as aiming for the plebeian.
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