Saturday, February 12, 2011

Golden Brown by The Stranglers


Golden Brown might be about heroin, a gorgeous black woman...or toast. Take your pick. Quite possibly, it’s about one man’s infatuation with a heroin addicted, dark skinned beauty, who has the munchies for toasted muffins. Whatever meaning it has, it provides us with a perfect counterpoint to the rest of the punk movement, and its remains and offshoots.

Who would have thought the harpsichord could be so cool?

When most of the punks were still moaning about no future, or burning effigies of Margaret Thatcher, The Stranglers turned 180 degrees, and added some musical legitimacy to what had become a fairly predictable and boring movement.

The Stranglers are no strangers to doing things differently. Shunned by some for being musically educated, and shunned by others for being educated in general, they defied the critics, which included a sometimes apathetic music press, and maintained a healthy and respected following well into their fifth decade.

They were there when punk rock’s rocket launched, and rode in its wake. And they survived when that rocket turned out to be a missile and self destructed. The Stranglers had enough variance in their repertoire to be able to walk away relatively unscathed. They are one of those bands that have always been thereabouts. Whilst not leading the charge, they were always in the thick of the battle, and earned their stripes.

With an impressive 16 original albums to their collective name, they have kept themselves in the mix with fans across all continents, which a string of hits, like Peaches, Always The Sun, and Skin Deep. All still get regular airplay some thirty years later, but none so much as Golden Brown. Whether they like it or not, it has become their signature tune. And there is nothing wrong with that.

With numerous line ups, The Stranglers have remained true to the original punk ethos of originality and free spirit. That ethos became lost with the endless repetition of snarling guitar bands with three chords and a pose that pandered to an ever hungry public that devoured anything thrown at it labelled punk, and a music industry increasingly manipulated by fashionistas and consumerism. This is why Golden Brown stands proudly amongst the best punk songs of the period, and holds it’s own with the best rock songs of any period.

Golden Brown works extremely well on many levels. As a simple listening pleasure it is magnificent. It delivers a measured balance of melancholy melody and composition, with a wistful vocal performance. In the tradition of all great songs, its meaning lies buried deliberately between the literal and the metaphorical. For those wanting to dig a bit deeper it yields further riches.

Whether it is about addiction, or obsession, it is that desire for something, or someone, that provides so much joy and pleasure, if only temporary, that you know can only lead to pain and suffering. In the cold light of day, you know you need to stop, and move in another direction. But the heart is the trump card. The heart knows exactly what to say, those sudden persuasive whispers to the subconscious. Emotion rules the day, and the heart chips away, until Logic becomes a true believer, an ally in self deception. That’s the sad truth about obsession. As addiction strangles the life out of the addict, the addict only feels the warm embrace of the object of his desires, his one true love.

Underlying these sinister overtones is incredibly beautiful music. The choice of harpsichord is inspired. The guitar break is understated elegance. It is very seductive and compliments the lyrics perfectly, right through to the hypnotic mantra on the fade out.

This song may not be of much use as you face your own personal struggle, but it is one to savour when you come through the other side. It is a song to reminisce with, safe in the comfort of either victory or defeat.

Won or lost – you have survived.

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