For those of us who just can't help ourselves and have to check out the numerous You Tube clips of new material prior to an album's release (yes, I know, guilty as charged!), the first thing that strikes you listening to 'Giants' is how much better than expected it sounds.
No, that's not right. That's the second thing. The first thing that hits you is 45 seconds into track one, when the unmistakable bass growl of JJ Burnel kicks in. It still sounds awesome. It is awesome!
'Another Camden Afternoon' is a lazy, lolloping instrumental opener, almost as if the band are rousing themselves and flexing their muscles. A pleasing enough start.
'Freedom Is Insane' is apparently a left over from the 'Suite XVII' sessions, but it fits in perfectly well here, with a surging bassline and Dave Greenfield's frothing keyboards present and correct. In fact it's almost too much a typical Stranglers song, right down to the nod back to their cover of 'Walk On By' in the Greenfield keyboard solo.
Still, it's not like they're the first band to draw on their own back catalogue for inspiration - and it is great source material.
In fact that's the rub with 'Giants' - there's nothing wrong with it. The title track is the kind of wistful pop that carries a blade under it's leather jacket and 'Lowlands' - the standout track on the album - is an admirable addition to the band's menacing, humourous, rumbling epics, complete with an almost Buzzcocks-esque call and return guitar motif. Almost.
But not quite. I like 'Giants', it ticks all the boxes for a Stranglers album and it's a more coherent whole that their previous outing 'Suite XVII', but crucially it does lack that standout track. For a band at this stage of their career it's still a pretty good achievement and perhaps I'm being too harsh, after all 'Relentless' the standout song on the last album was a remarkable achievement. Songs like that don't come around every day.
In fact there is another reflection on the passing of time here with ' Time Was Once On My Side'. Again not bad, but no 'Relentless'.
Elsewhere the consistency starts to vary. 'Mercury Rising' is a song not quite saved by an excellent elastic bass riff that holds the whole thing together, but somehow it just doesn't sit right. But straight after that you get the real surprise of the album, 'Adios (Tango)' which has been described as 'a heavy metal tango', sung in Spanish! A joke? Perhaps. But it works.
The album closer '15 Steps' is another one that doesn't quite work, despite a catchy chorus, it's hard to get past a nagging similarity to the Damned's 'Shadow Of Love' in the opening riff.
At times 'Giants' does feel like a band playing within themselves, as the intensity dips with 'My Fickle Resolve' it's hard not to think back to hearing their 'Norfolk Coast' album. Nothing wrong with it, pleased to hear it at the time, but is it an album I go back to? Given the options from the Stranglers career, I suspect that 'Giants' may go the way of 'Norfolk Coast'.
But then what do you expect? I'm sure the band would say they've earned the right to do what they want. Which is quite true actually. Sometimes you wonder why bands carry on (the financial incentives aside). In the Strangers case it's because they enjoy it. And because they can.