The Stranglers, Rattus Norvegicus

When the band bills itself as a bunch of violent murderers, you're in for something ... different. Fast, frenetic and unapologetically unrefined, the overall feeling of this surprisingly complex proto-punk album is one of barely contained chaos. This works for it and sometimes against: the wacked-out keyboards in the lead track "Sometimes" feel like a thoroughbred champing at the reins, just one neurologic misfire away from galloping off a cliff, and the driving line in "Ugly" gives way to a mishmashed dissonant bridge that leaves you right back where you started. On the other hand, when it tightens up you have amazing stuff like the deserving if over-parenthesized single "(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)," its energetically interwoven instrumental lines ruined only by a bafflingly cacophonous conclusion, and the almost progressive rock (oh, the sacrilege!) stylings of the odd yet slyly compelling multi-part suite "Down in the Sewer" ("lots of diseasezzzzzzzzz"), bringing the album to a raucous climactic end. Their tongue is a bit too much in their cheek for the lecherous "Peaches" and the arguably misogynistic "Princess of the Streets," though to be fair, to call it simply a smear on women is to miss the joke entirely, but the sound is unmistakable, the high points are incredible, and even the low points are interesting. You'll never hear another album quite like it and while it's decidedly not for everybody, that's certainly worth three stars. The CD reissue adds the unremarkable but listenable "Choosey Susie" (allegedly the same girl as the Princess), the early prototype "Go Buddy Joe" which leavens the relatively straight rock and roll with a taste of their later style, and the noodly live jam "Peasant in the Big Sh*tty" whose infamously jittery 9/4 time signature is only part of why it makes you queasy to listen to. The first and last were apparently included with initial pressings, and the second backed the "Peaches" single; they're not incompetent, but there's good reason they're not on the main album. (Content: innuendo and adult references, some profanity.)