HUGH CORNWELL Totem and Taboo CD

hughcornwellYou can take Hugh out of the Stranglers—hell, that happened a long time ago—but you can’t take the Stranglers out of Hugh, it seems. What’s this? An assemblage of stripped-down slashing guitar numbers with that same peculiar pop-ish sensibility and snarled sarcasm that made first-gen Stranglers such an unearthly delight—but as performed by a guy in his sixties who’s seen it all, done it all, gotten tired out by it all, and grown even more jaded in the process.

If you were a maven of the Stranglers back in the day, it’s just kind of weird to listen to him now: They were great—really great—but very much of their time and place. The old stuff sounds plenty good thirty years on, but there’s no denying that it sounds old. Which it is. As are its fans, including me. Yet here’s Hugh, still with a smirk on his lips, peppering his clipped lyrics with snide little referents, his telecaster still spitting out jagged little notes that even sound sarcastic themselves.

Something propels this guy; something that most others of his generation just don’t have. Here he is at his age, kicking out oddly harmonious pop-punk riffs that would’ve been perfectly at home in 1979 or on Rattus Norvegicus. I listen to this album and think: Here’s the basis for what could’ve been a great bunch of Stranglers songs, were one to add Greenfield keyboards and Burnel bass growl to the equation, but that was not to be. Hell, speaking personally, I still miss ’em—but that doesn’t detract from this accomplishment: An album’s worth of tight, finely honed, spare little numbers that, like albums of the Stranglers’ halcyon days, I can just let play on repeat over and over and over again a few times in a row. Ten songs, ten distinct sentiments, ten atmospheres, all unmistakably Cornwell, and really, all pretty damn good. No, this album will never occupy the same sanctified space in my consciousness as The Raven or Black and White, but it’s closer than I’d have thought possible—and I’m damn glad he stuck around to create it. [Cadiz]

-David Livingstone

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