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The Stranglers Continue To Push The Boundaries Of Music In 'Dark Matters'



They started making music in the British punk scene of the 1970s, collecting fans and foes for their absurdist lyrics, their ability to musically reinvent themselves, their raucous antics off stage, and they're still pushing boundaries today. The Stranglers have a new album out. It's called "Dark Matters." Bassist JJ Burnel and guitarist Baz Warne join us now. Welcome to you both.


BAZ WARNE: Hey, how are you doing?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am well. So this is your first album in 10 years, right?

BURNEL: Nearly 10 years, yes, ma'am.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What brought you back?

BURNEL: Well, you know, we're not an assembly line or a Ford...


BURNEL: ...You know. So, you know, because we're musicians, we like to have an audience. And the success of the last couple of albums in Europe, anyway, solicited many, many offers to go around the globe and play. So we've only had the opportunity to collect our thoughts and complete those ideas in the last couple of years.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So it's been gestating for a while.

BURNEL: Gestating, yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) I mean, I think it's like giving birth a little.

WARNE: I wouldn't know.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Baz, what's changed in The Stranglers' sound or what hasn't?

WARNE: Well, I'm sure that you're aware that we lost our keyboard player.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dave Greenfeld.

WARNE: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He passed away from COVID, right?

WARNE: He did in May of last year. So we've been - well, at first, we had to kind of take stock and decide if we were going to keep doing it. I mean, we were both shell shocked. I was in - you know, we were in a bad way losing Dave. It was a real shock. So although Dave is on the album, I think Dave's passing was one of the real catalysts that's kind of spurred us on to do this. We'd recorded some preliminary tracks way back in April '19 and kind of forgotten about them because, as J said, we went on the road for a long time. And when we got back and started listening to stuff and realized how beautifully it had come together, and Dave's playing was just - it just deserved to be heard, really. And we thought, OK, first of all, this is going to be a tribute and an epitaph, if you like, to our fallen comrade.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's listen to one of the songs. And it's called "And If You Should See Dave."


THE STRANGLERS: (Singing) And if you should see my friend, say hello. I was meant to meet him soon in that great saloon. How does it feel to be left in mid-conversation, no less (ph)?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: JJ, tell me about the song.

BURNEL: You know when you hear something so terrible - and especially in my case, I'd been involved with the boy for 45 years as colleague and as a friend. So suddenly, you have this huge gap and you can't believe it's true. So you kind of want to wake up in the morning and think it's just a bad dream. So that's how I approached the song for Dave.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, I just want to give you also, Baz, an opportunity to remember your friend and your collaborator.

WARNE: He was like my wacky, crazy older uncle. We were a family. We are a family. And when, you know, you're in a family, you know yourself, you don't always get on with everyone. You know, there's arguments and there's disagreements, but there's a deep underlying love there, which is often unspoken. And it's not until something catastrophic happens like this that you realize just how much he meant to you, to everyone.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to listen now to a song called "The Lines."


THE STRANGLERS: (Singing) This one was my mom, this one my papa, this one when the kids stayed out too late in their first car if you were to chase the lines on my face.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about the song, great lines.

BURNEL: It's every day. When I wake up and go into the bathroom and look at myself in the mirror, I'm not seeing the person I want to see...

WARNE: (Laughter).

BURNEL: ...In more recent years. But I don't know why people don't write more about the truth of getting older. And I think every face tells a story, so we just thought it was an appropriate song to do in this way.

WARNE: That particular song came very quickly. He had pretty much all of the lyrics - I'd say maybe 60% of the lyrics. And so one evening, we just brought two bottles of very nice red French wine, and we finished the tune together. We went into the studio the next day purely just because we were afraid we might forget what we'd done.

BURNEL: Which is easily done on two bottles of French red wine.

WARNE: It certainly is.


WARNE: So the version that you hear and that's on the record is the only time it was ever recorded completely live just once. And that's something in itself, I think.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, you're calling this your first sort of, quote, "grown-up" album. I mean, I guess the punk, you know - and obviously you've moved on from those initial days, but, you know, it is a lot about rebelling, about sort of exposing hypocrisies, and, you know, maybe growing up is about acceptance.

BURNEL: Yeah, amongst many other things as well. And also, you know, as we grow older, we change our viewpoints about things through experience. You know, there's a French expression (speaking French) - to understand everything is to forgive everything, which can be a double-edged sword. But I think that's probably what is reflected in this record.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's JJ Burnel and Baz Warne of the fabulous Stranglers. Their new album is called "Dark Matters." Thank you both so very much.

WARNE: Pleasure.

BURNEL: Thank you. Thanks for having us.


THE STRANGLERS: (Singing) She's a girl who... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.