(The Gospel According To) The Meninblack Double Vinyl
Double Heavyweight LP £35.00
Release Date: 07/12/2018
Originally released in February 1981, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE MENINBLACK was The STRANGLERS’ fifth studio LP.
Their most obvious concept album, the subject matter is, largely, aliens, UFOs and religion. The recording sessions were, by Strangler standards, both lengthy and expensive. Spread across the first eight months of 1980, they coincided with what was a tumultuous and chaotic time for the band; one that included Hugh’s imprisonment in March, the infamous “riot” in Nice in June, changing management in September, deaths amongst their road crew and other close associates and ended with their uninsured gear being stolen in New York whilst on tour in North America in October.
Such were the dark forces that followed The STRANGLERS around at this time, that it all added credence to their own theory that they were being monitored and malevolently influenced by the Meninblack themselves for trying to expose them. Whether this or just a strange and highly unfortunate chain of events, it added a new dimension of menace and mystery to an already extremely dark band...
Another factor, the sale of their label, UA, to EMI, whilst presenting numerous challenges, did, in one sense, give them the artistic freedom to experiment, cross barriers and do their own thing. That freedom included working in multiple studios across Europe - some of the most advanced of the time - with Steve Churchyard engineering and the band producing. These started and ended at Air Studios in London (non-album singles BEAR CAGE and WHO WANTS THE WORLD were amongst the tracks recorded here) and, in between, took in Giorgio Moroder’s Euro-disco factory, Musicland in Munich in May (THROWN AWAY, fittingly, was crafted here, along with SECOND COMING); Pathé Marconi in Paris in June, (FOUR HORSEMEN, WALTZINBLACK & HALLOW TO OUR MEN were here); near Rome, in late June/early July and at John Lennon’s old house and, by then, Ringo Starr’s Startling Studios in Ascot, Berkshire, in August (TURN THE CENTURIES, TURN).
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE MENINBLACK peaked at #8 on the UK Album chart and became the band’s then-best-performing album-to-date in Europe. Whilst it was greeted with derision and head-scratching by the critics, unable to get past the concepts in order to appreciate some of the amazing sweeping instrumentation and melodies, it has always been looked on fondly by the band members. Both Hugh & JJ have stated separately several times that it is amongst their favourite albums and certainly the freedom they had around its recording was unrivalled. JJ has even gone so far as to call it The STRANGLERS’ “prog” album; whilst Hugh has referred to it as The STRANGLERS’ “most psychedelic” record; something that is especially borne out when listening on headphones.
WALTZINBLACK, the band’s signature instrumental, later theme to the legendary Keith Floyd cooking programmes and still, to this day, the band’s stage intro music, is one of two instrumentals on the album, along with the haunting, repetitive and melancholy TURN THE CENTURIES, TURN. JUST LIKE NOTHING ON EARTH, the second single released from the album, has a terrific tongue-twisting, alliterative lyric based on accounts of people who have reported encounters with aliens and is a great “team effort” of original sounds. SECOND COMING muses over Christ’s return to earth and how He might be received. WAITING FOR THE MENINBLACK deals with more about the sinister men dressed in black who are perhaps aliens; perhaps government agents sent to supress chaos. The chanting is based on Dr Faust and brings into question magic, religion and all things too complex for most human minds. TWO SUNSPOTS is not all it seems lyrically - but was the earliest track to be recorded on this album. In Strangler lore, it is legendary for being the track that was slowed down to half-speed to become Meninblack on previous album, The Raven. It’s the same 24-track 2” tape recording from 1978’s Eden Studios session that was used again here. FOUR HORSEMAN is a most unusual and musically clever recording. It is the last vocal performed by Dave which then ventures off into a beautiful, meandering and wistful instrumental, completely at odds with its apocalyptic subject matter. THROWN AWAY, the first single released from the album and sung by JJ, was written from the perspective of an alien visitor to earth set to a Stranglers-go-Euro-disco beat. MANNA MACHINE refers to a contraption believed buried in the Golan Heights which, in Biblical times, produced food that saved the Israelites from starvation. It is based around an intriguing series of sound effects and then-complicated drum loops, with a dead-pan vocal. Seven-and-a-half minute closer HALLOW TO OUR MEN is a “scat vocal” take on the Lord’s Prayer, book-ended by instrumental passages that start in 5/4 time and eventually soar off into a crescendo with a beautiful melody and multi-layered guitars.
The bonus LP on this 2018 release is cut on fluorescent, alien-green vinyl and entitled THE MENINBLACK - REVELATIONS. Side 3, gathers assorted bonus tracks from the period. These include the non-album 7” singles released in 1980 as a precursor, BEAR CAGE & WHO WANTS THE WORLD; the latter’s B-side, the instrumental THE MENINBLACK (WAITING FOR ‘EM) plus TOP SECRET & MANINWHIITE, the B-sides, respectively, of the album’s singles, THROWN AWAY & JLNOE. The remaining seven tracks are all previously unreleased *. THE FREEZER is a long-lost gem. Recorded in March, 1980, it is an instrumental, which became MANNA MACHINE but is around 100 seconds longer than its more familiar vocalised version. Side 4 opens with a demo version of WHO WANTS THE WORLD. Recorded in early 1980, it is longer, slower and with a slightly different mix to the single version. The demo version of TWO SUNSPOTS is the best and brightest of three mixes from the Portland Studios sessions in London from 7th May, 1979. Again, another Stranglers’ Holy Grail track is released officially for the first time. Three rampant more contemporary live recordings follow. THROWN AWAY is from Paris, in April 2014, whilst JUST LIKE NOTHING ON EARTH & BEAR CAGE are the first official recordings released from the 2018 UK tour, taken from Brixton Academy in March. Rounding things off, MARCHINBLACK, the WALTZINBLACK remix produced for the intro music to the band’s 2016 March On Tour, is a fitting finale.
The whole package comes in a gatefold sleeve, with Da Vinci’s doctored “Last Supper” across the inside. Both LPs run at 331⁄3 RPM and come in newly-created inner bags. An art print, each individually signed by Jet, JJ, Dave & Baz and measuring roughly 10”x10” of a Maninblack carefully studying the album sleeve, is also included.
ORIGINAL LP: THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE MENINBLACK
2. JUST LIKE NOTHING ON EARTH
3. SECOND COMING
4. WAITING FOR THE MENINBLACK
5. TURN THE CENTURIES, TURN
1. TWO SUNSPOTS
2. FOUR HORSEMEN
3. THROWN AWAY
4. MANNA MACHINE
5. HALLOW TO OUR MEN
BONUS FLUORESCENT GREEN VINYL LP: THEMENINBLACK REVELATIONS
1. WHO WANTS THE WORLD
2. BEAR CAGE (7” EDIT)
3. TOP SECRET
5. THE MENINBLACK (WAITING FOR ‘EM)
6. THE FREEZER*
1. WHO WANTS THE WORLD (DEMO)*
2. TWO SUNSPOTS (DEMO)*
3. THROWN AWAY (LIVE)*
4. JUST LIKE NOTHING ON EARTH (LIVE)*
5. BEAR CAGE (LIVE)*