Saturday, September 10, 2016

Classic Album Review: The Stranglers – La Folie (1981)

The Stranglers are unquestionably one of the bands always most heavily associated with the hype and excitement of the late Seventies punk movement in the UK.

Yet there’s a school of thought which dictates that The Stranglers were merely “punk” by association, or part of the scene only by default. A Johnny-come-lately pub-rock band that just happened to be in the right place at the right time. For example, getting the nod to support The Ramones on the American band’s first UK tour.

It was said they were too old to be true punks – and to be fair, drummer Jet Black was nearing 40 at the time. It’s also true the band’s street cred was compromised by its wider professionalism, and the fact that they actually knew how to play their instruments. But then again, a couple of years playing live in London pubs will tend to do that to a band … prior to the arrival of the post-1976 DIY ethos, knowing how to play was pretty much a prerequisite for survival, let alone getting regular gigs. And it’s worth recalling that The Stranglers were very much established as a going concern long before that whole King’s Road thing took off in 1976.

Whatever the case, by 1981, and album number six, La Folie, the evidence would suggest The Stranglers were anything but punk, and you’d just as likely stick the dreaded synth-pop label on the band. Some five years after achieving prominence on the back of a scene which was all but dead on its feet, virtually all of the harder edges had been smoothed over, and the grittier, almost rough and ready approach of the band’s earlier stuff had gradually been replaced by something resembling a polished euro-disco chic. That’s the version you’ll find on La Folie, light years on from the band’s pub-rock heyday. The Feline album of 1983, continued the process, taking things to another level entirely. Though, not necessarily in a good way.

An increased reliance on programming and synths certainly helped to move The Stranglers into a more commercial realm, and in production terms, La Folie oozes an era-defining glossy faux-electro-sophistication, very much of and for its time. And of course, the fact that La Folie’s title-track was practically whispered in French, probably only added to the band’s newly acquired windswept-and-interesting cosmopolitan mystique.

As much as that track is one of the highlights on La Folie, the album’s masterpiece is ‘Golden Brown’, a chart hit (reaching no.2 in 1982) which has weathered well across several subsequent generations, despite its rather gruesome subject matter (heroin addiction) being completely at odds with its surface gentle beauty. Other highlights include ‘Non Stop’, ‘Pin Up’, and ‘How to Find True Love and Happiness in the Present Day’ … albeit the last one isn’t nearly as helpful as it might claim to be.

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