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  • A Stranglers best-of collection is bound to play out almost like a various-artists collection or an eclectic mixtape. Over their decades-spanning journey, the English group found their roots in the early punk and beer-soaked pub rock scenes, but quickly branched out into stylistically diverse territory. Listening back-to-back to two of the band's biggest hits -- the swaggering street thug amble of "Peaches" placed next to the lilting Baroque melancholia of "Golden Brown" -- makes their sonic shapeshifting abundantly clear. One minute they're belting out the keyboard-heavy hard rock of "No More Heroes" and the next we're treated to the synthy post-Joy Division French-language goth of "La Folie." Essential manages to steer away from the disjointedness that could come from presenting an overview for such a widely varied band, but there are still some dips in the road. The inclusion of prog-punk throwaway tracks "Nice N' Sleazy" or "Five Minutes" slows the momentum, especially in light of the omission of Stranglers cover versions of the Kinks "All Day and All of the Night" or Question Mark & the Mysterians' "96 Tears," both of which were hits for the band in the late '80s. Generally, Essential manages to portray the Stranglers in an accurate light; a slightly schizophrenic band with an equal ratio of great tunes and head-scratching filler. ~ Fred Thomas
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