When school lets out and summertime rolls around, music lovers everywhere begin looking for the perfect summer road trip album to keep themselves entertained through traffic gridlocks, fields of livestock, and endless mile markers without a rest stop. The Stranglers’ newest effort, “Giants,” could be the ubiquitous summery antidote to those stretching roads and hours of boredom.
Steeped in nostalgia and friendly guitar riffs, “Giants” provides just the right sort of background music for a road trip, especially when you don’t want anyone singing along. Why? Well, the vocals are substantially less focused than the instrumentation, specifically those oh-so-memorable aforementioned guitar riffs. In consequence, it’s the sound of the songs themselves that get stuck in your head. In this way, “Giants” isn’t so full of summer earworms as it’s full of catchy little pieces that have a longer shelf life than say, top 40 hits that rely on lyrical repetition.
While all ten songs do collectively sound like a cohesive project, there is some disparity amongst them stylistically. For example, the opening track, “Another Camden Afternoon” is an instrumental piece that could’ve been strengthened by a good set of lyrics, but for whatever reason the band neglected to include them. “Freedom is Insane” meanders across six minutes and a menagerie of different sounds and flavors, from old synths to more sepia-soaked beats. “Giants” favors fantasy imagery, “Adios (Tango)” has a much darker melody than the other material, and “Time Was Once on My Side” epitomizes the art of the jangling, commercial summer song.
Surprisingly, the album gets stronger the longer it runs. Unlike many releases where the opening songs serve as a hook, the first four songs or so on “Giants”—including the title song—seek to establish the character of the album as a whole, but don’t really provide anything substantial to latch on to. It isn’t until about track five that listeners find themselves, well, hooked. In this way, it requires a little patience to get through the album altogether, but it’s worth the effort.
Even with these positives, “Giants” still comes across a little generic at times, or at the very least, a little commercial. While listening, I swore I had heard at least one of these songs as backdrop to some commercial or another on the television. When I sought out those commercials, however, I found that I was mistaken. The songs were merely similar, not identical. While this friendly, familiar quality does provide an easy way for the listener to connect to the music—and undoubtedly provides a few lucky marketing opportunities, should The Stranglers ever wish to indulge—they also inhibit the “wow” moment of truly original, innovated songs.
Overall, “Giants” is a fun and easy nostalgia-flavored summertime album. Definitely keep its gems on your road trip playlist.