Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Classic Albums No. 18: Rattus Norvegicus
When it comes to discussing the best Stranglers album, two tend to rise to the surface. First, you have 1978’s “Black And White”, described by some as the first post-punk album - impressive when you consider that punk was actually still going at the time of it‘s release. And then you have 1979’s “The Raven”. By the time this one came out, the band were becoming fascinated by UFO’s, dressing in black, and were getting deadly serious about what they were doing - the tour that followed saw virtually the whole album being played on stage, whilst the likes of “Peaches” and “No More Heroes”, the band’s two biggest hits, had been wiped from the setlists.
It was almost as if the band were slightly embarrassed by their past - that the gobbing nature of the punk scene which had sort of spawned them was something to disown, that the early days reminded them of when they were being accused of being sexist yobs - and so by avoiding some of the music from that period, the band could be seen as having grown up and moved on. But for me, of the four studio albums the band issued in the seventies, my favourite is still the one that emerged at the start when all that gobbing nonsense was still going on - 1977’s debut album “Rattus Norvegicus”.
For some, “Rattus” is a problematic product of it’s time - it’s seen by some as misogynistic and politically incorrect. But if you place those offending lyrics within the right context, then read the band’s own quote about the words being deliberately “silly and absurd”, and then actually sit and listen to the actual music, you will realise that “Rattus” is a remarkable piece of work. It has an inventiveness that was replicated in one form or another on all of the later albums - essentially, whatever LP it is that you like from the band that isn’t this one, it has this album to thank for it’s existence. Without “Down In The Sewer”, you wouldn’t have had “Hallow To Our Men” or “Too Precious” or “Time To Die“ or “Another Camden Afternoon“. This was the album that got the band the ‘Punk Floyd’ tag - in other words, this was a group that at times married the aggressive nature of punk, with the psychedelic ambition of the Floyd. And if the band really WERE chauvinistic pigs, well, the amount of women I see at Stranglers gigs makes me think that somebody, somewhere, really did miss the point.
Now, given that even the band members themselves have struggled to recall the timeline of what happened during the early days, then I can only try and give you what I think is a reasonable view about “what happened next” and when it more or less happened. The origins of the album, and the band, can be traced way back to early 1973, when Hugh Cornwell was guitarist in a group called Johnny Sox. Cornwell was studying at University in Sweden when he formed the band, and after his studies came to an end, he and the band returned to England. They lost two band members along the way - guitarist, keyboard player and founding member Hans Warmling, and a drummer by the name of ’Chicago Mike’. The band located to London, and responded to an advert that had been placed in the Melody Maker by a drummer offering his services.
That drummer was Brian Duffy, AKA Jet Black. Black was older than the rest of the band, and had even had a brief brush with near fame some years earlier - he had a history of drumming in jazz bands, one of which even went to the effort of pressing up a white label 7” EP. The Omega Dance Orchestra was their name, and less than 50 copies of this single were ever made, with possibly less than that still surviving. Born in Ilford, Black had by now relocated to Guildford where he had moved away from music for the most part, and instead ran several local businesses - most famously, he was the owner of a fleet of ice cream vans, and later ran his own off licence. Black came into contact with the band in late 73.
Black thought that whilst Johnny Sox were far from the finished article, they had something lurking under the surface that he liked. He was not impressed with the band’s lead singer, Gyrth Godwin, but did feel that the songs that Cornwell was writing had a certain something. Black agreed to join the group and the band moved down to Guildford to join him.
As the band began to take shape, Black was so determined that they should succeed, that he got frustrated at those members who he felt were letting the side own. Although some reports suggest Gyrth and bass player Jan Knutsson soon became fed up at the band’s lack of progress, Black’s own account of the band at this time was that they ‘get serious or get out’. The result? Gyrth and Knutsson both made the decision to leave the group and return to Sweden.
Johnny Sox, who at some point had become the short lived Wanderlust, were thus temporarily reduced to a two piece of just Black and Cornwell. However, just before his departure from the band, Gyrth had hitched a lift with a Frenchman by the name of Jean Jacques Burnel, who became friends with the fledgling band and remained in touch thereafter. After Gyrth and Knutsson had departed, Burnel happened to mention to the band that he was a classically trained guitarist, but that he fancied the idea of using these techniques with the bass guitar instead. Burnel was thus invited into the group, and the three piece went out on the gigging circuit, with Cornwell as their erstwhile lead singer.
In the summer of 1974, Cornwell felt that the band could do with a beefing up of the sound, and contacted Warmling, inviting him into the band. The group changed their name briefly to The Guildford Stranglers, before shortening it to The Stranglers. Again, so determined was Black for the group to make waves, that he even went to the trouble of officially registering the band’s name as a business name that September.
Demos were taped with Warmling in September 74, including an embryonic version of “Strange Little Girl”. The group continued to play the pub circuit, trying out self penned material alongside cover versions to appease the crowds - legend has it that “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” was in the setlists as a bit of a joke, but Warmling soon left, citing the cover version debacle as one of his reasons for departing. Perhaps more crucially, however, is the fact that another of the covers from the time was the band’s take on “Walk On By”, even today, still a routine part of the setlist.
By early 1975, the band found themselves signing a dubious deal with Safari Records - the ’Xulu Comics’ “Stranglers Discography” mentions an unreleased 7” on the label, “My Young Dreams”, which was one of the tracks that had been demoed with Warmling (although details about whether or not this single actually exists are sketchy). This song, along with the original “SLG” and another early period rarity called “Wasted”, were later included on the 1992 “The Early Years” album. The deal may well have promised the release of a commercially available 45, but this never materialised, and the group ended up managing to escape from the deal. Safari did later claim a level of ownership over the demos the group had made with Warmling, even threatening to release the material themselves once the group had found success. After Warmling had left, there was a brief period with a sax player (thereby pre-dating the sound of “Grip“), before multi-instrumentalist Dave Greenfield joined the band in the summer of 1975, becoming their new keyboard player.
A friend of the band, Brian Crook, became their manager at this point, and set about trying to get the band a proper deal. Demo tapes of “SLG” and “My Young Dreams” were hawked around record companies but to no avail, and a single sided acetate of “SLG” was even pressed up to be played to A&R men. EMI, famously, heard it - and passed!
1976 arrived, and marked the beginning of a heavily intensive gigging campaign, with the group eventually clocking up just shy of 200 shows by the end of the year. The band were regulars on the London circuit, and eventually came to the attention of Albion Management, who signed the group and took over the management duties from Crook. By now, the cover versions had mostly gone (the band had not only stopped performing the likes of “I Saw Her Standing There”, which had been part of their typical 1975 setlist, but also, for a while, ditched “Walk On By” as well) and Albion began arranging gigs for them left right and centre. Amongst these bookings were support slots for groups that were part of the new US Punk scene, such as the Patti Smith Group and The Ramones, even though some people who saw the band struggled to see the lineage between the support act and the headliners. Even the band themselves later stated they were never really punks, but it did seem as though the association with the genre did help to beef up the sound of the group - check out some of the early material on “The Early Years” against the later, studio recorded efforts.
One of Albion’s employees, Dai Davies, was a big fan of the band, and began pestering an A&R rep at United Artists, Andrew Lauder, about this great group he ’had on his books’. During the second half of 76, Lauder started to attend Stranglers gigs, but whenever he showed up, the group would usually undergo some sort of technical malfunction - Greenfield’s bank of keyboards were famously of an OTT creation.
But Albion really believed in The Stranglers, and arranged for the band to play a “demonstration” gig in their own rehearsal studios for Lauder. This might have seemed like an unconventional approach, and could have created an awkward situation, but, away from the stresses of a pub venue, the band were able to set up their equipment correctly and put on a faultless performance. Lauder, who had sensed the band had something special, but had never fully seen it at those “technically hitched” shows, finally saw the light - and pretty much signed the group to UA there and then.
What happened next is also subject to conjecture. UA had, earlier in the year, issued a live album by another one of their acts, Dr Feelgood. They hastily arranged for a last minute gig to be held later that week by the band, with the venue chosen being one of their regular gigging haunts, London’s Nashville Rooms. The gig was scheduled for December 10th. The plan was for the band to play their usual set, and that UA would record it, in order to source material for a (live) debut album. By now, the band had built up a live following (see the stories of Dagenham Dave and the still around today Finchley Boys), and so UA were able to fill the venue despite it being at such short notice. The band played a typical set, a mix of tracks that would later appear on “Rattus”, and many more that would be held over for later releases.
Lauder was later quoted as saying that the gig was only taped to have some material held “in store”, I am guessing that any material that would be deemed to be OK for a commercial release would only have been as a B-side, or perhaps on a future live album. The band and their management team listened back to the show, and deemed it ‘substandard‘, and so any plans that there might have been for the live LP, were shelved. The date of this shelving has been given as the first week of January 77.
The band’s debut single was issued at the end of the month. It was the first of three singles to be issued that year as double-A side releases, with Cornwell taking lead on one side, and Burnel on the other (the band’s fourth 45, “No More Heroes”, featured a Cornwell vocal on both sides of the single, and thus ended the AA-side approach). “Get A Grip On Yourself”/”London Lady” was a sizeable hit, just stalling outside the top 40, and undoubtedly did so well because of the band’s burgeoning fan base. The A-side recalled the early days of the band following their relocation to Guildford, whilst “London Lady” started the debate about the band’s “sexist” stance, as it was either a lyrical attack on the journalist Caroline Coon who it was rumoured had briefly dated Cornwell, or was, according to Coon’s own website, a more generic “woman hating fantasy” which contained “evidence of the sexism and misogyny that contaminates the male dominated music industry”. In reality, the song seems simply to have been written as a vitriolic response from a spurned male lover to a female ex-lover, it could just as easily have been written the other way round. But this was the year after the slightly questionable ad campaign for the Stones’ “Black And Blue”, and by the time we got to “Bring On The Nubiles” and the strippers at Battersea Park, the band were seen as being part and parcel of a bigger problem of sexism in rock and roll, with “London Lady“ being cited as a prime example.
In Holland, the version of the single issued there included an instant rarity, as an alternate mix of “Grip” was included on the a-side, coming complete with an extended ending. I don’t quite know how this happened, but it must have been that the Dutch arm of the label had access to the original master tapes, and ended up creating a different mix - I think you can see how this happened if you listen to the 1989 remixes that were created for EMI’s reissue of the single that year. The song, which was the recipient of a video clip filmed at the Hope And Anchor pub, another old favourite of the band, effectively set up the sound of the band from the off - Burnel’s growling bass, Greenfield’s distinctive keyboard flourishes - as good as a lot of the punk bands were, none of them were quite as tuneful or musically adventurous as this lot was.
The group toured the UK the following month, and then simply kept going in the run up to the album’s release. The album had been recorded during the last few weeks of December 76, and most of January 1977, but was not released in the UK until April. Helped along by the group’s ever increasing following, it entered the UK charts at number 4. With only their second official release, the band had established themselves as major chart players.
The cover art was fascinating. The band’s famous logo, as seen on the “Grip” single and in early merchandise, was not shown on the front cover. Nor was the album title. The record was, at one point, going to be called “Dead On Arrival”, but at some point, this was changed. There also exists (proof?) artwork which shows the famous back cover art in such a way that it looks like a front cover (ie. no song titles) so that could be a clue that these changes took place late on in proceedings. That rear cover, complete with the band logo, shows the famous ’rat against the sunset’ image, still being rebooted for merchandise to this very day. The “rat” image would end up becoming an integral part of the band’s history, and the eventually chosen title for the LP was also the scientific name for the brown rat.
What we did get on the cover was a brilliant shot of the group in what looked like a big country mansion, with Burnel in his leathers looking both menacing and camp in equal measures. The 2010 best of, “Decades Apart”, also paid a passing homage to the image. The band name appeared at the top, and the legend “IV” at the bottom, in a fairly normal low-key typeface. To this day, I am still not sure what this “IV” thing was really for. Some people have assumed that the album title was “IV Rattus Norvegicus”, but given that the “Stranglers IV” legend cropped up again on “No More Heroes”, that puts that suggestion to rest. It seems as through the group, at times, were actually calling themselves “The Stranglers IV” to describe the make up of the group - when the Mark 2 line up emerged in 1991, the five piece version of the band did issue merchandise using a “Stranglers V” logo.
A lot of people prefer the “outtakes” follow up LP that appeared later the same year, “No More Heroes” - but not me. “Rattus”, overall, is a more daring, complex and groundbreaking LP. The opening “Sometimes” is astonishing - it follows the verse chorus verse structure, albeit with a lengthy extended set of solos in the middle, where both Cornwell and Greenfield get to show off their prowess. It’s nearly five minutes long, and as an opening song on a debut LP, is incredibly forward thinking - “progressive rock” even. It’s certainly one hell of a statement of intent to start your album career with and even today, still sounds astonishingly ahead of it’s time.
If you want more proof that the band were not quite the Neanderthal thugs that some parts of the media were painting them as, then look no further than “Goodbye Toulouse” - a whirring Greenfield keyboard intro, Burnel’s “bass guitar as lead guitar” snarl, Black’s powerhouse drumming and a song about “the destruction of Toulouse, as predicted by Nostradamus”. Makes that song Ed Sheeran did about Ellie Goulding dumping him sound even more irrelevant and pointless than you’d previously thought, doesn‘t it?
And on it goes. “London Lady” thrills in a truly bouncy punk rock way, short but spiky, whilst “Princess Of The Streets” swings and shimmies in a sort of off-kilter Frank Sinatra style, it was described as being “burlesque” by somebody on one website, a sort of punk rock waltz. Like much of what appeared on the album, it dated from the pub circuit days, and used to end back then with a “you’ve got me waiting for you girl” coda on stage, which was not used for the studio mix. When a version from a 1975 gig Cornwell taped surfaced in 1992 on “The Early Years”, The Stranglers (Mark 2) then went through a period where they performed the song in concert with the coda intact.
“Hanging Around”, the great Stranglers single that - in the UK - never was, concludes side 1. Always slightly more raucous on stage than on record (this was why, according to some, the Nashville gig had been scheduled, as the band’s studio demos from the period were seen to be ’under par’), it is nevertheless a piece of almost perfect (punk) pop. The classic minimalist intro, Greenfield’s thrilling keyboard lines as the verses move into the choruses, the anthemic roar of those choruses, and Cornwell’s rough around the edges guitar solo in the middle eight, helped to deservedly make this a song which has, through all the line up changes, remained almost permanently nailed into the band’s setlist. It has appeared on “hits” collections on this side of the pond despite never being released as a 45, although it was one of four songs on the US only “Something Better Change” EP issued in late 1977, in a “Grip” style picture sleeve.
“Peaches”, which was being readied as the next 45, was probably one of the most un-radio friendly songs on the record when you look at the lyrics, making it’s choice as single quite perverse. It’s written from the perspective of a slightly deluded macho man trawling the beach, and it’s leering tone is actually quite comical, straight out of the “Carry On” league, completely OTT, and deliriously stupid - a sort of punk/reggae version of those old saucy seaside postcards. It was a song so obviously tongue in cheek it hurts, with lyrics that were done possibly to try and show how “naughty” the punks could be. Over familiarity has dented it’s impact over the years, and although I sometimes wish I would never hear it again, every time that opening Burnel bass line kicks in, you realise just how fun, boorishly ludicrous and insanely catchy it actually is.
“Ugly” could also be seen as another piece of aggressive macho snarling (“I guess I shouldn’t have strangled her to death”), but again, is either very tongue in cheek or just plain silly (“but I had to go to work, and she had laced my coffee with acid...normally I wouldn’t have minded, but I’m allergic to sulphuric acid” - and so on). The song itself is a sort of ugly sounding record, with Cornwell’s spiky guitar coming at you from one direction, and Cornwell’s Doors-esque keyboards from another, whilst the song runs along like a lengthy stream of consciousness, no verse chorus verse approach here. It does pack quite a punch. And then at the end, yet again, the intelligence of the band comes through, with the line “don’t tell me that aesthetics are subjective, you just know the truth when you see it, whatever it is”. Now, that is heavy, heavy stuff.
“Down In The Sewer” just tops it all off. A four part “punk opera” with a lengthy instrumental opening, an even lengthier instrumental ending, and lyrical references to rats, it could stake a claim as being the band’s signature tune. Everybody is on top form here, Cornwell’s acidic guitar, Greenfield’s keyboard histronics, Burnel high up in the mix, and Black excelling during that ‘faster and faster, all hands on deck’ finale. I think that Black later stated that the band usually tried to play it near the end of the gig, if possible, before the encores, so that the band had time to recover! I can’t really describe it here in such a way that does it justice, but if I just say that it’s a cross between The Doors, Yes, The Pistols and the Monty Python theme, that should just about cover it.
When the LP was first issued, the vinyl edition’s first run (10000 copies) came with a free 7” (United Artists UAG 30045 / FREE 3), the free single being housed in an anonymous looking orange cover. On one side was a studio outtake, “Choosey Susie”, and on the other, the only official outing for anything from the Nashville gig, with a version from that show of “Peasant In The Big Shitty”, later to be issued in studio form on “No More Heroes”. Thing is, 10000 copies of an LP in those days was chicken feed, and most people who bought it even quite early on missed the boat, and ended up with an LP with no freebie. As such, copies of the single itself started to change hands for more than the album! A reissue of the single was later conducted, and sold through the band’s fan club - copies featured a different message scratched into the run out groove (“Ello Ellen”). There was an even later reissue from the 80s, which replaced the custom white and red UA/Stranglers labels with the bog standard Liberty labels (the band having shifted sideways to the label by this point, after Liberty swallowed up the UA imprint), which as I understand it, came in a die cut sleeve, instead of the orange original. The EMI Singles boxset issued on CD in 2001 included, interestingly, a reissue of the original single in it’s orange cover, a nice touch for anybody who might still have been trying to track down the 77 pressing.
For it’s release as the next 45, “Peaches” was subjected to a radio edit, in which Cornwell had to re-record the “oh shit” lyric for it to become “oh no“, and replace the references to “clitoris” and “bummer”. Made available commercially on the 1988 “Rarities” album, the radio mix had, up until that point, been only available on either an increasingly valuable 7” promo sent to the radio stations, or a later fan club endorsed re-pressing. The actual commercially released single itself was due to be issued as a AA with “Go Buddy Go”, written by Burnel ’pre-Stranglers’ and presenting a sort of doo-wop 50s style sound. When the single hit the charts, the lyrical content of “Peaches” meant that the band had to perform “Go Buddy Go” when they were invited to appear on “Top Of The Pops” - the line about “I’ve got me some speed” obviously being seen as more acceptable than mentioning parts of the female anatomy!
UA designed a “punk” sleeve for the single - a fairly innocuous image of the band, but with the title of the single spelt out in ’blackmail’ style lettering. The group saw it - and were incensed. The handful of copies that had been pressed were promptly withdrawn at the request of the group, and most copies that helped get the single into the top 10 were actually issued in blank white due cut sleeves. Because 45’s in those days used to just sell and sell, later repressings of the single from 1979 saw it housed in a new picture sleeve - a picture of a peach wearing a pair of bikini bottoms that were being yanked off by an “admirer”, so to speak. As for the blackmail sleeve, it soon became an impossibly expensive rarity, but then became more and more common - the 2001 singles boxset used the image, as did a 2014 Record Store Day reissue - indeed, the “peach” sleeve is now probably more obscure than the blackmail one.
During the 80s, bits and pieces from the original album sessions started to surface - officially and unofficially. A 1980 fan club single was issued with a demo of “Tomorrow Was The Hereafter”, which dated from 1976, and was being billed on some pressings as “First Demo Recording Early 1976”. As such, it really pre-dates the “Rattus“ period by several months, and indeed, the song did seem as though it had been ditched by the end of 76, as it was not in the setlists of the time, whereas material being lined up for “No More Heroes” was. Various editions of the single exist, with a limited number of 1988 pressings coming in a numbered picture sleeve. Demos of “Grip”, “Go Buddy Go” and the “NMH” album track “Bitching” appeared on a 1987 7” bootleg called “3 Early Demos” on the Pan-Vox label, and can all now be found on “The Early Years”. This LP is worth tracking down, as it also includes a tape of one of the band’s support slots for Patti Smith in late 76, and shows how the band’s setlist of the time was a mix of material from both “Rattus” and “No More Heroes” - it seems as though all of these songs were thus being considered as being good enough for release, and that the choice of the nine songs that were issued first on “Rattus” had gone through some sort of selection process. It’s never been too clear to me exactly why the likes of “School Mam” were held over for the second LP, other than the fact that this allowed the debut album to be issued on a single slab of vinyl. But it has been confirmed that some of the material for “Heroes” was actually taped during the original sessions for “Rattus”, shelved, and then exhumed for the follow up.
The first major reissue for the album occurred in 1982, when the LP was reissued by one of EMI’s budget labels, Fame (FA 3001). By this point, both of the band’s pre-Epic labels (UA and Liberty) came under the EMI umbrella. In keeping with the typical reissue approach of the time, the artwork was kept mostly intact, front and back covers in situ, but of course, there was no free single this time around. The labels on the vinyl itself were changed from the original “rat in the sunset” ones to Fame’s own yellow and red design. A Cassette pressing was also made.
In 1987 and 88, a major CD reissue campaign of the band’s “EMI” era albums was conducted by the label, focussing on the six studio LP’s and one live album that the band had put out between 77 and 82. Some reissues appeared on Fame, and others - such as “Rattus” - on the main EMI imprint (CDP 7 46362 2). Most of the albums added the odd bonus track from the period to take into account the expanded playing time of the format, with the exception of “Rattus”. This was because the three rarities from the time were shoe-horned onto other releases - “Choosey Susie” was used as the opener to the 1988 “Rarities” set, whilst the live “Peasant” appeared, as you might have expected, on the reissue of “Live (X-Cert)”. As for “Go Buddy Go”, it had turned up on 1986’s “Off The Beaten Track”, a release thus seemingly deemed as being recent enough for the song to be left off. Shame that this album, I believe, had actually been deleted at the time. Hey ho. The radio edit of “Peaches”, meanwhile, was also included on “Rarities”.
Once the reissue campaign was over, EMI decided to issue a singles collection called “Singles The UA Years” and the remixed “Grip” was issued to coincide. Two mixes of the song were made, one a 7” remix and one a 12”, and completists who fancied both could purchase either the 12” or CD edition of the 45 to tick both boxes. “Tomorrow Was The Hereafter” was added as a bonus track to both, the first time it had appeared on a ‘regular’ release, whilst coloured vinyl obsessives had the option of buying a red vinyl 7” pressing as well.
As mentioned elsewhere on this site in the past, 1996 saw the short lived EMI Premier imprint issue the band’s first two albums as expanded “double disc” sets as some sort of “20th Birthday of Punk” excuse. The second disc was used to include all of the relevant rarities from the period, so what you really had was something similar to the original LP release, a full length CD with a free EP. For “Rattus”, this now meant that both sides of the original freebie and “Go Buddy Go” were included in this reissue (PROFCD 5), although I believe it was deleted quite quickly. Of course, the bonus tracks could quite easily have slotted onto the main disc, but the advantage of this double disc approach was that the main album still concluded, as it should do, with “Sewer”.
In 2001, EMI decided it was time to revamp the back catalogue again, and reissued the seven albums from the period as expanded CD pressings once more. This time around, the attempt was made to stick all the rarities onto the expanded releases, meaning things that had turned up back in 88 on “Rarities” were this time around appearing on the corresponding LP from the relevant period. As such, the three tracks from the 1996 double disc pressing of “Rattus” were now simply glued onto the end of the album (7243 5 34406 2 6), meaning “Sewer” was no longer the climax. Boo. However, it fared better than some of the other reissues from the period, as the revamps of things like “The Raven” and “La Folie” came in altered artwork, or with impossible-to-read lyric booklets second time around. “Tomorrow Was The Hereafter” was added to the expanded “Meninblack”, referring to the time of it’s original fan club single release date, and, of course, (the re-recorded) “Strange Little Girl” was added to “La Folie”. This release also included “Cocktail Nubiles”, which had appeared on the flip of the “Hereafter” 7”, and as it’s title suggested, was a supper club version of “Bring On The Nubiles”, taped specifically for the single I do believe in 1980.
In 2003, a slightly odd release from Germany, on Capitol Records, surfaced - a “double disc” reissue of the expanded versions of “Rattus” and “Black And White” (582 3572). These discs were repressings of the 2001 versions, so “Rattus” came with it’s three bonus tracks intact. The album appeared in a thick double jewel case, with a suitably custom designed cover - the band name at the top of the sleeve, and miniature reprints of the two covers below. Inside, the booklets from the two albums were included, quite a simple - and dare I say, sort of clever, but cheap looking - move, but at least it was better than having no booklets at all - although it did make you wonder why these two albums, and none of the other five, were subjected to this treatment. It was almost as if EMI had pressed too many copies of them, and saw this as a way of flogging the excess stock. Surely not?
2014 marked the 40th anniversary of the band, based on the date that Black had registered the band’s name, and despite quotes of much “revamping” of the back catalogue to coincide, there were only a handful of cash in releases. One of these, “Giants And Gems”, was a curious boxset release by Parlophone/Warner Brothers (2564 633677), who by now, were in charge of the EMI/UA/Liberty material. The box set included reissues of the six studio albums from the 77-82 period, and thus included “Rattus” as part of the pack. This time around, there were no bonus tracks. You also got the “Live (X-Cert)” album, “Off The Beaten Track” (to make a reasonably rare album of rarities available again), and the taped-in-77-but-released-in-92 EMI release “Live At The Hope And Anchor”. But it’s a curious release because, despite being concerned with the EMI years, there is no “Norfolk Coast” - there is “Suite XVI”, as expected, but also the independently released “Giants”, which last time I looked, had had no EMI involvement in the UK at all. In other words, the Mark 1 years before they went ‘pop’ and the Mark 4 years. So, a 40th anniversary release that complete ignores everything between 1983 and 2005. Really, no “Norfolk Coast”? It seemed to have been designed specifically for those fans who threw in the towel when they heard the drum machines on “Feline”, but got excited when the band reverted to a 4-piece when Paul walked. Another baffling re-writing of history. A nice starting point for the newbies, but still, a strange release with what it did and did not include. 2014 also saw an expanded reissue of the 1993 boxset “The Old Testament”, which included all nine tracks from “Rattus” on disc 1, and all of the other rarities from the period scattered around the rest of the box.
Keeping up with the trend of vinyl loving retro-ness, 2015 saw the reissue of the band’s first two albums on their own Coursegood imprint as expensive, tarted up, Long Players. The aim was to try and recreate as much as possible how the records looked when they first came out, and so it was that “Rattus” came with it’s freebie 7” again for the first time in many a year (CGLP 1). However, the reissue was actually more ‘intense’ than the original, as it also included the SIS lyric sheet that was produced some years after the original release and distributed independently, along with a re-print of the original promo poster. 500 copies were pressed, so the original asking price of £25 is probably already starting to rise.
“Rattus” really is a good album. It does seem, nearly 40 years on, as though there is still a part of the media that has never forgiven the band for the strippers, the “piece of meat” line in “Princess Of The Streets”, the Guardian described the band as ‘punk bruisers’ in their gig listings quite recently. Which is a shame because this is one of the finest debut albums of all time, and one of the greatest records ever - an inventive, exhilarating, and flawless piece of psychedelic punk rock, and a lot more daring and exciting that any of those massive selling Adele LP’s. There has been, in recent years, an increasing adoration towards this band, and I can only hope that eventually, all those people who have never listed this album in their “top 100 greatest albums” lists will rectify the error. It’s easily up there with The Stone Roses, Arcade Fire and Arctic Monkeys in terms of classic first records, and hopefully soon, the public at large will catch up and realise this.
"I’ll see you in the sewer darling. Don’t be late."