The Stranglers’ Jean-Jacques Burnel: The Rolling Stones were fantastic, U2 are boring and smug

As the band prepares to play the Albert Hall, Burnel admits, “We thrived on being disliked, but you can’t make a profession out of rebellion”

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For Jean-Jacques Burnel, his time with the Stranglers meant that “If gigs didn’t end in a riot, or we weren’t booed off stage, it wasn’t good”.

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A band that found themselves accused of racism and sexism, Burnel says The Stranglers “thrived on being disliked.”

“You can’t make a profession out of rebellion. You need something to kick against,” he tells Radio Times magazine.  

On the 40 million records they sold, Burnel says, “[it’s] more than the Clash or the Sex Pistols, which is respectable for an edgy band. It’s less than U2, but they’re boring and smug. The Rolling Stones were fantastic for their first ten years, but haven’t done much since… I’m trying to be sentient and valid, not living in the past.

“Bands are so sterile now because there’s too much of a commercial imperative. Artists shouldn’t play safe.”

Now, as he and the band readies to play the Albert Hall as part of this year’s Proms, Burnel admits, “It’s no longer the Stranglers against the world. It’s the Stranglers with a few friends.”

On playing the Proms, Burnel says, “I’m flattered but not really surprised we’re at the Proms [with the London Sinfonietta] because we’re the last man standing from our generation. Isn’t it ironic, though, that the iconic BBC, which people call the Establishment, can be more adventurous than any other broadcaster? They take risks and that’s pretty cool.”

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Read the full interview in this week’s Radio Times magazine (on sale Tuesday 6 August)