Another one for the Halloween hit parade.
I've written about my ardent love of The Stranglers here before. I first heard their music thanks to the inclusion of a few choice tracks like "(Get a) Grip (On Yourself)" and "Bring On The Nubiles" on a mixtape given to me by a friend. The Stranglers were sneery, sweary, and pugnacious leather-clad thugs with a distinctive sound (anchored by the rumbling low-end thunder of bassist J.J. Burnell), and I was immediately intrigued. This was still the early 1980s, and the band had yet to fully morph into the more user-friendly incarnation that recorded mellower fare like "Always the Sun" later in the decade. I stopped into a local record store on East 86th Street & Third Avenue (long, long gone) hoping to find a copy of Rattus Norvgicus or No More Heroes. The only Stranglers' LP they had, however, was a curious-looking artifact called The Gospel According To The Meninblack. I sprang for it.
Largely bereft of their type of taut, propulsive punk rock that won my initial attention, …Meninblack was a densely strange record filled with odd time signatures, sprawling instrumentals and melodies that didn't quite sound right. A concept album about the Men in Black (long before it was a silly Will Smith film, the notion of a secret cabal of government agents assigned to safeguard the clandestine existence of aliens was a conspiracy theory robustly supported by a large community of deeply paranoid people), this was the quintessence of a "difficult album." If I recall correctly, Ira Robbins' Trouser Press Guide to New Wave Records called it "a departure for nowhere," but I grew to really dig it. For all its myriad faults, there are some great tunes here (I still count "Just Like Nothing on Earth" among my favorites by the band). But its bizarre, cryptic subject matter and the oft-unwieldy, radio-hostile music contained therein didn't do the band any favors. In David Buckley's awesome bio of the band, No Mercy, the boys say that lots of odd, inexplicable things started happening to them during that period, casting a further pall over the proceedings. It should also be noted that they also admit to taking a heroic amount of drugs at the time. They soon abandoned this direction shortly afterwards.
"Meninblack," the track I'm citing here, wasn't on the original album, rather it was a track on the preceding album, The Raven, that acted as a place-setter of sorts. Herein, the Men in Black (voiced by what sounds like a sinister chipmunk) reveal themselves as aliens and disclose their master plot (read: that "Twilight Zone" episode: "How To Serve Man"). Couched in droning electronics, plodding percussion and Hugh Cornwell's Morriconne-inspired guitars, it's truly a strange song, setting the table for later weird tracks on the Meninblack album like the haunting "Manna Machine" and the giddily disquieting "Waltzinblack."
Anyway, please enjoy…