The Stranglers are an English rock band, formed in 1974 by guitarist–singer Hugh Cornwell. They rose to prominence with the 1977 albums Rattus Norvegicus and No More Heroes and the UK hits “Peaches,” “Grip,” “Something Better Change,” and “No More Heroes.” Their early sound is characterized by grimy guitar tones, arpeggiated keyboard runs, and the thick, trebly bass of JJ Burnel, whose guttural vocals contrast the fluid voice of Cornwell on select tracks.
In 1978, The Stranglers charted with “5 Minutes” and a cover of the Bacharach–David classic “Walk On By.” They reached No. 2 with Black and White, their third album in thirteen months. After Cornwell and Burnel cut solo albums, The Stranglers regrouped with The Raven, an album with multi-layered keyboards and harmonic, polyrhythmic counterpoint.
Members: J.J. Burnel (bass, vocals), Jet Black (drums), Hans Wärmling (guitar, keyboards, 1974-75), Hugh Cornwell (guitar, vocals, 1974-90), Dave Greenfield (keyboards, vocals, 1975-2020)
The Stranglers assembled in early 1974 as The Guildford Stranglers. Guitarist/singer Hugh Cornwell (b. Aug. 28, 1949) had recently returned to England after a several-year stay in Sweden, where he studied biochemistry and gigged in the band Johnny Sox with several locals, including keyboardist Hans Wärmling. As a teenager, Cornwell played in a garage band called Emile and the Detectives with a (pre-Fairport) Richard Thompson.
The Stranglers initially used the “Guildford” prefix in ode to their stomping ground, where drummer Jet Black — aka Brian Duffy (b. Aug 26, 1938) — owned a liquor store. Black had been a jazz drummer during the late ’50s and early ’60s before breaking from music to build his business profile. After running a home brewery and a fleet of ice cream vans, he was looking to return to band life when he met the recently repatriated Cornwell.
Black and Cornwell were soon joined by Jean-Jacques Burnel (b. Feb. 21, 1952), a classically trained guitarist with an orchestral background. Since they needed a bassist, he took up the instrument. Soon thereafter, Wärmling visited England and decided to join the band. This lineup gigged for a year and cut three group-composed demos: the retro-rocker “Wasted” and the ballads “My Young Dreams” and “Strange Little Girl.”
“Wasted” concerns a young junkie’s kicks and the depths he’ll plunge (“find a rich old man to rob”) to support his habit.
In May 1975, Wärmling was replaced by keyboardist Dave Greenfield (March 29, 1949 — May 3, 2020), who hailed from a series of bands in the UK and Germany, including beatsters The Blue Maxi, which cut the 1970 single “Here Comes Summer.” His arrival completed the classic Stranglers lineup that would hold for 15 years.
The Stranglers gigged constantly over the next 18 months, recurrently playing the trafficked London haunts (The Roundhouse, The Red Cow, Hope & Anchor). In early 1976, they cut demos of several live favorites, including “Grip,” “Bitching,” “Go Buddy Go,” and “Tomorrow Was the Hereafter.”
On March 30, The Stranglers alarmed London concertgoers with a promo poster that showed an image from crime scene where the Boston Strangler (Albert DeSalvo, 1931–1973) slayed one of his victims. That night, The Stranglers played The Nashville Room, a North End pub where The Snakes (with future Wire drummer Robert Gotobed) held the opening slot.
In the summer of 1976, they opened select dates for Patti Smith and were drawn into the new wave punk scene. In December, The Stranglers signed to United Artists.
1977: First Two Albums
The Strangers got their first publicity blast after a January 30 appearance at Rainbow Theatre, a venue owned by the pious Greater London Council. Several songs in, Cornwell removed his jacket to reveal a backward shirt that spelled FUCK in the style of the Ford logo, which prompted the GLC to shutter the band’s power supply. The little-reported headline act was veteran rockers the Climax Blues Band, who recently scored their first chart hit (UK No. 10) with “Couldn’t Get It Right” from their eighth studio album Gold Plated.
“(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)”
“(Get A) Grip (On Yourself),” backed with “London Lady.” Graphic artist Kevin Sparrow designed the Stranglers logo: a lower-case cursive brushstroke based on Filmotype Harper, a fifties American font sold locally by the UK firm Photoscript. The logo (typically red) appears on most Stranglers releases henceforth.
Two Stranglers fans, T. Moon and P. Jac (aka The Welks), printed and distributed Sideburns, an amateur Stranglers fanzine with interviews, reviews, and coverage of the band’s activities. The first issue contains a December 1976 interview with Jet Black and articles on Darts, Dr. Feelgood, and Eddie & the Hot Rods. The reviews section discusses singles by Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Canned Heat, Graham Parker, The Vibrators, Little Bob Story, the Velvet Underground, and the Flaming Groovies, plus a five-paragraph feature on Zoot Allures by Frank Zappa. As an ode to the anyone-can-do-it ethos of the punk movement, page 2 contains a diagram that reads “This is a chord (A)… this is another (E)… this is a third (G)… now form a band.”
After three issues, Moon linked with Stranglers publicist Alan Edwards and launched Strangled. Issues 1–4 appeared in 1977 with ongoing group coverage and features on 999, Ian Dury, The Jam, John Cale, Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers, The Lurkers, Squeeze, and other new wave acts.
The Stranglers released their debut album, Rattus Norvegicus, on April 15, 1977, on United Artists. It features both sides of the pre-released single and seven further group-written numbers. Burnel’s voice — shouted on “London Lady” and “Ugly”; deep bass on “Princess of the Streets” — contrasts the fluid modal mid-range of Cornwell, who sings the remaining tracks.
“Sometimes” (4:56) “Someday I’m going to smack your face” is The Stranglers’ twice-uttered opening salvo. Hugh based the lyrics on a domestic dispute. “I got morbid fascination”
“Goodbye Toulouse” (3:12) Hugh sings Burnel’s lyrics about Toulouse and its streets, storied cafes, and courtesans (“Paula looked down on me, from her high balcony”), inspired by Nostradamus’ predictions of the French city.
“London Lady” (2:25) takes aim at a groupie with “foetid brainwaves” (fetid: unpleasant smell). Jean namechecks spots on the UK rock map, including Dingwall’s, a dancehall in Camden Lock. The woman in question was rumored to be Caroline Coon, a Melody Maker journalist who documented the nascent London punk scene.
“Princess of the Streets” (4:34) Jean sings in a somber, deep low register about his recent shaft from a toxic, two-timing, manipulative, looks-maxed female who he deems “the queen of the street.”
“Hanging Around” (4:25) Each verse refers to London characters: a drunken clubgoer (“she’s got the barley fever”); Earls Court Road drug hustlers (“a million of ’em selling”); aged youth (“got a monkey on his shoulder”); and denizens of the Coleherne gay pub (“the leather all around me”). Hugh references Christ in the chorus for the sake of controversy.
“Peaches” (4:03) Hugh parodies the seaside girl-watcher in a mock-lecherous tone (peach is slang for attractive female). When thinking of “worse places to be,” he references the album’s final song in a grim couplet (“like… down in the sewer, or even on the end of a skewer”).
“(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)” (3:55) Hugh sings of tough times (lived and imagined) where rock music saved the day. The “Morry Thou” beyond his means is a Morris Minor, an economy car by the British automaker Morris Motors.
“Ugly” (4:03) Jean imagines a sexual encounter gone wrong: the narrator strangles an acne-prone woman after she laces his coffee with sulfuric acid. He then rants about aesthetics and hypergamy.
“Down in the Sewer” (7:30) Hugh finds himself in a sewer full of Coca Cola cans and water rats, which he jokingly makes the subject of his sexual prey. The lyrics take inspiration from the 1975 BBC TV drama Survivors, where an English farmer sets off for post-apocalyptic London, which can only be accessed through the rat-infested sewer system.
Sessions took place during January–February 1977 at T.W. Studios in Fulham with producer Martin Rushent, a seven-year soundman whose prior credits include albums by Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, Badger, Curved Air (Air Cut), Danny Kirwan (Second Chapter), Gentle Giant (Octopus), Groundhogs (Hogwash), Osibisa, Premiata Forneria Marconi (L’Isola Di Niente), Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Tonton Macoute, and Zzebra. Most recently, he engineered theatrical rock albums by Roderick Falconer (New Nation) and David Essex (Out In the Street).
The engineer on Rattus,
No More Heroes
The Stranglers released their second album, No More Heroes, on September 23, 1977, on United Artists. Cornwell, in his direct baritone, sings two songs on Side A (“I Feel Like a Wog,” “Bring On the Nubiles”) and three on Side B (“No More Heroes,” “English Towns,” “School Mam”). Burnel, in his gruff, shouted voice, sings three songs on Side A (“Bitching,” “Dagenham Dave,” “Something Better Change”) and one on Side B (“Burning Up Time”). Greenfield debuts his garbled, twisted tone with one song per side: “Dead Ringer” and “Peasant in the Big Shitty.”
“I Feel Like a Wog” (3:16) Hugh sings of compromised work and financial situations where he likens his plight to a wog (British slang for poor migrants from Southern Eurasia).
“Bitching” (4:25) Jean rants about idle bar conversations where people complain about random topics. He asks why they can’t be all like farmers (“a Grainger man”) or wolves (“a Pheland man”).
“Dead Ringer” (2:46) Dave gargles questions to a familiar looking individual: possibly someone from his childhood (“a conkeroonee stringer” — someone who strings chestnuts for conkers, a British child’s game).
“Dagenham Dave” (3:18) Jean sings about a loyal early Stranglers fan (Dave from Dagenham, East London) who was well-read, antisocial, possessive (of the group), and suicidal.
“Bring on the Nubiles” (2:15) Hugh games a nubile (attractive young female) in unambiguous terms. On select lines, he describes sexual acts with unprecedented rawness for a major label release.
“Something Better Change” (3:35) Jean drops two verses about a love–hate relationship and barks numerous repetitions of the chorus line.
“No More Heroes” (3:27) alludes to the edifice of of hero warship in politics (Leon Trotsky: the Leninist dissident killed by Stalin), comedy (“dear old Lenny” — ribald sixties standup comic Lenny Bruce), art (“the great Elmyr” — Elmyr de Hory, the Hungarian art forger), and fiction (Sancho Panza, the squire in Don Quixote). Hugh coins the term “Shakespearoes,” a portmanteau of Shakespeare and heroes (a literary hero).
“Peasant in the Big Shitty” (3:25) Dave portrays a peasant in a nuclear haze (“The day is sticky yellow”).
“Burning Up Time” (2:25) Jean bemoans the “Brighton train” as it whisks him off from his “Brighton Belle” to the next gig before The Stranglers’ core fan contingent (the Finchley Boys).
“English Towns” (2:13) Hugh sings from the point of view of a spoiled rock star who’s cut off from regular people (dogs) in an ivory tour and desensitized after countless groupies (“no love in a thousand girls”).
“School Mam” (6:52) Hugh, in a sinister tone, sings about a school of do-nothings where a student–teacher sexual encounter is witnessed by the “school mam” (a strict old lady principle), who dies from a shock-induced heart attack.
Four songs — “Bitching,” “School Mam,” “Something Better Change,” and the studio version of “Peasant in the Big Shitty” — were cut during the winter Rattus sessions. The Stranglers recorded the rest of No More Heroes at T.W. in June–July 1977 with Rushent, who worked on this album in succession with titles by Eddie & the Hot Rods (Life On the Line) and Trickster (Find the Lady). The tapes were then mixed at Olympic by Bennett, who also worked on 1977 albums by Kansas (Point of Know Return) and Racing Cars (Weekend Rendezvous).
1978: Singles, Third Album
In May, The Stranglers released their third album in the span of thirteen months. With nine non-album sides from this same period, they amassed roughly four album’s worth of output in the sixteen months since their first single. In late 1978, Cornwell and Burnel each worked on solo albums.
On January 27, 1978, The Stranglers released “5 Minutes” / “Rok It to the Moon”. The song was recorded during an exclusive New Year’s T.W. session with Rushent, who also produced the self-titled debut album by Generation X.
“5 Minutes” (3:17) concerns a real-life event: Jean’s puruit of five men who raped a female roomate in a London flat he shared with Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson. The line “some say that I should hate them all, but i say that wouldn’t help at all” refers to insinuations by others that he should blame all black men for what five particular black men did to his roommate.
“Rok It to the Moon” (2:47) Hugh alludes to “Straighten Out” (the cannibalistic doomsday scenario). “I’m looking forward to the year of ’88, We’ll be eating each other I fear before that date, No more heroes, no more T-bone steaks.” He wants a rocket to the moon, where he can watch it infold with binoculars.
“Nice ‘n’ Sleazy”
On April 26, 1978, The Stranglers released “Nice ‘n’ Sleazy,” backed with “Shut Up,” a 67-minute punk song in which Jean tells a cantankerous individual to either go quiet or “argue with yourself all night.”
The Stranglers mimed “Nice ‘n’ Sleazy” on the May 4 and 18 broadcasts of TotP, which reaired the segment ahead on the 18th ahead of songs by Elkie Brooks and X-Ray Spex. “Nice ‘n’ Sleazy” reached No. 18 on the UK Singles Chart.
Black and White
The Stranglers released their third album, Black and White, on May 12, 1978, on United Artists. It’s split into a White Side (A) and Black Side (B) with the inner-sleeve and labels coded accordingly. Cornwell sings all six White Side tracks and two (“In the Shadows,” “Enough Time”) on the Black Side, which features one Greenfield vocal (“Do You Wanna”) and three songs led by Burnel, who shout-sings “Curfew” and employs his bass-tone on “Threatened” and “Death and Night and Blood (Yukio).”
“Tank” (2:54) Hugh sings as a mildly autistic teenager who dreams of enlisting (for “1, 2, 3 or 4” years) so he can drive a tank and “blow a man’s arm off at the count of three.”
“Nice ‘n’ Sleazy” (3:11) concerns a crew that comes ashore on foreign land after untold time on the west sea (“like a dry tree seeking water, or a daughter”).
“Outside Tokyo” (2:06) talks about how the wrist watch (a then-mostly Japanese product) quantifies time to a lot of users, despite the infinite phenomenon of time.
“Sweden (All Quiet on the Eastern Front)” (2:47) Hugh sings of Sweden (where he studied medicine) and its unique cloud formations. The subtitle is a play on the idiom “all quiet on the western front,” a colloquial expression for stagnation.
“Hey! (Rise of the Robots)” (2:13) concerns the choppy motions and faulty artificial language (“Of get way their out”) of automation-tasked Versatran Series F robots: the subject of a November 1977 Washington Post article.
“Toiler on the Sea” (5:23) concerns a captain whose “woman ship” runs ashore as his crew fights aliens and the ship becomes home to “a flock of seagulls” (hence the name of a later band). He repairs the ship and sets sail, only to get lost in the fog as the hookline (“I was a toiler”) fragements.
“Curfew” (3:10) Jean breaks news of London’s invasion by a foreign enemy and the UK government’s relocation to Scotland. The population is ordered to stay home, clear the streets by nightfall and find “a new kind of freedom” in lockdown.
“Threatened” (3:30) Jean acknowledges (through denial) that no one is completely safe. If man isn’t killed on the job (industry), en transit (luxury), or by nature (falling tree), he could be killed by another person (sanity) or vice versa.
“Do You Wanna” (2:38) Dave presses a woman on her three options: marry money (be the housewife of a company director); use her body (be a beauty queen); or work dead-end jobs.
“Death and Night and Blood (Yukio)” (2:50) Jean sings military men willing to die for their cause (“When I saw that sparta in his eyes, young death is good” — sparta represents militaristic discipline, as embodied by the soldiers of Sparta, am ancient Greek city-state). He took inspiration from the writing of Japanese author and civilian militia leader Yukio Mishima (1925–1970). The title comes from Mishima’s 1949 novel Confessions of a Mask, a semi-autobiographical account of the author’s isolated youth in Imperial Japan.
“In the Shadows” (4:15) Hugh jokes about night fright, street shadows and their possible sources. A person walks home in the dark and reacts in horror to a moving shadow that’s either from a dog or cat.
“Enough Time” (4:16) Hugh confronts the listener on his/her his options in a doomsday scenario where “the sky goes black” and there’s no “looking for a sign of life” and “your face falls apart.” He repeats the title (as a rhetorical question) till the song grinds to a halt.
Black and White is the last of three-consecutive Stranglers albums recorded at T.W. Studios with Rushent. Sessions for the eleven new tracks (barring “In the Shadows”) took place in February–March 1978 between Rushent’s work with recent UA signees the Buzzcocks, who released three standalone singles and two albums that year, including their recent debut Another Music in a Different Kitchen. As Rushent focused on that band, he handed The Stranglers to Winstanley, who engineered this album amid titles by 999, Jona Lewie, and Bette Bright & the Illuminations, a Deaf School spinoff with Rich Kids ties.
Black and White has a two-tone cover with the band against stark white background posed in all black with two exceptions: Burnel’s two-tone top and Greenfield’s two-tone shoes, a footwear style recently re-popularized by The Jam. The photographer, , had earlier visual credits on albums by Andy Fraser, Brinsley Schwarz, Jericho, Jethro Tull (Benefit), Man (Back Into the Future), Rick Wakeman, and Shawn Phillips. As a multi-instrumentalist, he played saxophone for Anthony Moore and Bryan Ferry. At the time of this album, he played bass in Riff Riff with future folkie Billy Bragg.
In the UK, the first 75,000 copies contained a free maxi-single: “Walk On By,” a cover of the Burt Bacharach–Hal David song made famous by Dionne Warwick. It’s backed with the comedic blues-rockers “Old Codger” (with blues singer George Melly and harpist Lew Lewis) and “Tits.” In the latter, Hugh calls out his bandmates (“that was absolutely amazing Dave, you put Rick Wakeman in a shade there!”) and tries to dazzle with “a little bit of a psychedelic lead guitar… just like John McLaughlin and Paul McCartney and all those creeps do.”
The single appeared on white vinyl with a label warning that it was not to be sold separate from copies of Black and White. However, a separate version did appear in July with “Tank” in lieu of “Tits.” This version has a picture sleeve that replicates the album cover with a joking reference to the legacy of “Walk On By” — the head of a Dionne Warwick lookalike superimposed on Cornwell’s body.
With “Walk On By,” The Stranglers opened the August 17 broadcast of TotP, which then cut to the Justin Hayward ballad “Forever Autumn” from Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds.
Black and White reached No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart, where it was held off the No. 1 spot by the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. In North America, the album appeared on marble vinyl without the bonus single.
1979: Live, Solo Projects, Fourth Album
In early 1979, UA filled the Stranglers album-release gap with a live disc. Meanwhile, Burnel and Cornwell completed their solo albums, which appeared respectively before and after the fourth Stranglers studio album. On the side, Burnel produced the self-titled debut album by Lizard, a London-based Japanese new wave band.
In April 1979, J.J. Burnel released Euroman Cometh, a synth-based solo album on UA. Burnel self-performed most of the songs, which are set to a speed-manipulated beat box. The album — semi-titled after the 1946 dead-enders play The Iceman Cometh by American playwright Eugene O’Neill — focuses on themes of a united Europe.
In addition to bass and vocals, Burnel handles guitar and keyboards on Euroman Cometh. Three songs (“Freddie Laker,” “Deutschland Nicht Uber Alles,” “Do the European”) feature Drones drummer Peter Howells. The album’s one non-original is the Beat Merchants cover “Pretty Face,” a punk raveup recorded with Lew Lewis, Chelsea drummer Carey Fortune, and ex-Damned guitarist Brian James. Rushent and Winstanley co-produced the album with Burnel, whose leather-clad figure appears on the cover next to the blue-tubed entrance of the Centre Georges Pompidou, a recently opened Paris arts center.
“Freddie Laker (Concorde and Eurobus)” appeared as a single, backed with the non-album “Ozymandias.” Burnel promoted Euroman Cometh with an April tour, backed by Howells, ex-Vibrators guitarist John Ellis, and keyboardist Penny Tobin. He drew upon the influence of Can and Kraftwerk on this album, which became a key release at the juncture of synthpunk and electronic art-rock alongside early titles by Chrisma, Tuxedomoon, Thomas Leer, and “Warm Leatherette” by The Normal.
Live (X Cert)
In February 1979, United Artists issued Live (X Cert), a document of their late-1977 setlist with three additional songs from the Battersea event.
The Stranglers mimed “Duchess” on the August 30 episode of TotP, which then gave a fourth airing to “We Don’t Talk Anymore,” the current No. 1 by Cliff Richard. “Duchess” reached No. 14 on the UK Singles Chart.
(Months later, Genesis issued Duke, which contains a hidden suite of songs, including a rousing anthem titled “Duchess,” about a diva’s rise and fall.)
The Stranglers released their fourth studio album, The Raven, on September 15, 1979, on United Artists. Cornwell sings five songs in his newly refined, angelic modal range. Burnel, in a revised style, employs an airy tone on “The Raven” and whisper-sings “Don’t Bring Harry.” He also sings “Meninblack,” a cryptic, vocally-treated track with themes they’d revisit on subsequent releases. Greenfield sings “Genetix,” a rhythmically varied track that closes the album.
“Longships” (1:10) sets up the viking theme that segues into…
“The Raven” (5:13) Jean sings as a viking whose friend, the raven, serves as the voyage guide. (In Norse mythology, the raven embodies wisdom and protection.)
“Dead Loss Angeles” (2:24) Hugh comments on the vapid, artificial culture of Los Angeles and its attractions, including Disneyland and Le Brea Tar Pits (he twice mentions the “dredged up mastodon”). The first line references “Peaches” (“The plastic peaches there, on concrete beaches there”). (Hugh had a run-in with LA police, who stopped and frisked him for taking a leisurely walk between sessions for his debut solo album.)
“Ice” (3:26) Jeans conjures imagery of seppuku, the samurai suicide ritual of medieval Japan. He name-checks Hagakure, a 17th-century warrior’s spiritual guide that returned to print in the early 1900s as The Book of the Samurai.
“Baroque Bordello” (3:50) Hugh describes an ornate bordello in vivid detail (“Swing doors and a blind venetian, Keep her in a walnut shell”). He alludes to the lures and pratfalls of temptation (“Find your heaven, find your hell, find your love but keeps it hidden”).
“Nuclear Device (The Wizard of Aus)” (3:32) The subtitle refers to Queensland’s controversial Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen (then midway through his 1968–1987 reign). Hugh sings of Bjelke-Petersen’s authoritarian domestic policy (“Brisbane men stay at home at night, ‘cos I outlawed all of the vice”), gerrymandering (“I don’t really care about which way you vote, ‘cos my gerrymander works out fine”), and export of coal (“I sell desert stretches like a big rubber glove to Japan for a nuclear device”). In the coda, he rapid-fires about genetic animal mutation and outback nuclear tests and their impact on Aboriginal communities.
“Shah Shah a Go Go” (4:50) Hugh sings of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran from 1941 until his recent overthrow in the Iran Revolution. Cornwell charts Pahlavi’s opulence (“He was luxury’s greatest fan”), foreign relations (“Sold the English all their oil”), and ultimate downfall (“Then a priest in Paris France, made the people get up and da da dance” — the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was exiled in France in the month’s that preceded the Sha’s overthrow).
“Don’t Bring Harry” (4:09) Jean uses the name Harry as a code name for heroin (“a beast of luxury”). He acknowledges the drug’s downer effect (“I don’t know where morning is, it might not come today”), addictive quality (“He likes to prey on my mind with his own special treat”), and sometimes lethal impact (“He just wants my body and soul leaves the bones behind”).
“Duchess” (2:30) Hugh sings of a high-minded young female who, despite her low-brown surroundings (“broken down TVs”), convinces others of her nobility (“Says she’s Henry’s kid”). Hence “the Rodneys are are queuing up.” (Rodney is British slang for an upper-class male fool.)
“Meninblack” (4:48) Jean makes references to human engineering as a representative of the meninblack. (In ufology, the men in black are secret agents who memory-wipe witnesses of UFOs and extraterrestrials.)
“Genetix” (5:16) Dave, in a sinister tone, sings of genetic mutation (“Bring it down to cells and plasma”) and its implications (“Messing round at playing God”).
Sessions took place in June 1979 at Pathé Marconi Studios in Paris, France. The Stranglers co-produced The Raven with Winstanley, who also worked on 1979 albums by Amii Stewart, Joe Jackson, Lene Lovich (Flex), Trickster (Back to Zero), and the Deaf School spinoffs The Planets (Goon Hilly Down) and Clive Langer & the Boxes. Winstanley and Langer subsequently formed a production partnership.
The Raven was mixed at AIR Studios, London, by Winstanley and Steve Churchyard, an engineer on 2nd Honeymoon and recent albums by Trevor Rabin, Tarney & Spencer (Three’s a Crowd), and ex-Family frontman Roger Chapman.
The Strangers conceived the holographic cover concept: an idea used by The Rolling Stones on their 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request. The three-dimensional raven was photographed by one Toppan. Later copies dispensed with the 3D holograph for a more conventional black-framed raven photo. The designed firm Shoot That Tiger! is credited with the inner-sleeve, which has song lyrics accompanied by illustrations, including one of then-Queensland premiere Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who had it removed from subsequent pressings. The back cover shows The Stranglers on the prow of a Viking longship, photographed by Paul Cox, who also has visual credits on 1979–80 albums by Magnum, Motorhead, and Sky.
In October, The Stranglers released “Nuclear Device (Wizard of Aus)” as the album’s second single, backed with the exclusive “Yellowcake UF 6.” In late November, they issued a 7″ four-song maxi-single of “Don’t Bring Harry,” Cornwell’s solo track “Wired,” and live versions of “In the Shadows” and Burnel’s “Crabs.”
The Stranglers appeared on the December 6 TotP, where they mimed “Don’t Bring Harry” beside a white grand piano — slotted between M‘s year-end hit “Moonlight and Muzak” and a Legs & Co dance routine for the title-track to Off the Wall, the breakthrough solo album by Michael Jackson.
The Raven reached No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart.
In November 1979, Hugh Cornwell released Nosferatu, a collaborative effort with drummer Robert Williams of Captain Beefheart‘s Magic Band. Musically, it meshes the Stranglers’ harmonic motifs with the roaming fills and polyrhythms of Beefheart’s work.
Cornwell and Williams met during the Stranglers’ 1978 US tour when Hugh attended three consecutive Beefheart shows in San Francisco. The impromptu sessions occurred in Los Angeles during the 1978–79 winter season and wrapped in April (in London) after Cornwell completed a pre-booked Stranglers tour.
The pair developed the album’s seven joint-credited originals in the studio, where they took inspiration from the title-sake 1922 German film — an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula — newly popular via Werner Herzong’s just-released remake Nosferatu the Vampyre. Since the original Nosferatu is a silent film, Cornwell and Williams created this album as an unofficial soundtrack. The album’s cover features an image still from F. W. Murnau’s 1922 film.
Williams conceived the arrangement for the one cover, “White Room,” a 1968 Cream evergreen by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown. Cornwell lone-wrote the album’s closing two numbers, “Wrong Way Round” and “Puppett.” For the arrangement of “Irate Caterpillar,” he drew inspiration from guitarist Fred Frith, recently of avant-rockers Henry Cow.
Nosferatu features guest appearances by Frank Zappa keyboardist Ian Underwood (four tracks) and Williams’ guitarist friend David Walldroop (two tracks). “Rhythmic Itch” gives prominence to the frontal pair of Devo: singer–keyboardist Mark Mothersbaugh and his guitarist brother Bob. Ian Dury (as “Duncan Poundcake”) is the fairground barker on “Wrong Way Round.” Mick Jones of The Clash (credited among “Various people”) partook in the “Puppett” chant.
Just as Nosferatu hit shelves, Cornwell was arrested for drug possession after a random spot check.
1980: Prison, Benefits
In 1980, the Stranglers released two non-album singles and completed their fifth studio album during the first half of the year. They were booked for March dates in Thailand and India (foreign territories to most UK rockers) and a headline slot of a week-long festival in honor of the Rainbow Theatre’s fiftieth anniversary.
However, Cornwell was sentenced to five weeks in Pentonville prison due to charges stemming from the November 1979 drug bust. His March–April imprisonment nixed their Indochinese tour and placed the Rainbow event in jeopardy. To help The Stranglers honor the shows, calls poured in from numerous guitarists and singers.
The April 3 and 4 shows later appeared on the archival CD The Stranglers and Friends Live In Concert. Burnel’s recent touring mate John Ellis plays guitar on most numbers, which alternately feature second guitarists Robert Fripp (“Tank,” “Threatened,” “Toiler On the Sea”), Steve Hillage (“Something Better Change,” “Down In the Sewer”), Cure leader Robert Smith (“(Get a) Grip (On Yourself),” “Hanging Around”), and Steel Pulse head Basil Gabbidon (“Nice ‘N’ Sleazy”).
The vocalists include Toyah Wilcox (“Something Better Change”), Peter Hammill (“Tank”), Skids frontman Richard Jobson (“Bring On the Nubiles,” “No More Heroes,” “5 Minutes”), Members singer Nicky Tesco (“Nice ‘N’ Sleazy”), and Cornwell’s then-girlfriend Hazel O’Connor (“(Get A) Grip (On Yourself),” “Hanging Around”). (Hazel would cut a studio version of “Hanging Around” on her 1981 third album Cover Plus.) Singer–actor Phil Daniels, star of the recent film adaptation of The Who‘s 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia, sings “Toiler On the Sea.”
The second night’s lineup was colloquially dubbed the ‘Strangled Blockheads’ due to the presence of singer Ian Dury (“Bear Cage” “Peaches”) and two members of his backing band the Blockheads: guitarist John Turnball (ex-Skip Bifferty, ARC) and saxophonist Davey Payne.
Meanwhile, the Stranglers Information Service issued “Tomorrow Was the Hereafter,” a 1976 demo pulled from the vaults. The b-side, “Nubiles (Cocktail Version),” is a minimal version of “Bring On the Nubiles” where Cornwell half-remembers the lyrics as Greenfield plays simplistic stops-start motifs with a synth-harpsichord setting.
After Cornwell’s release from prison, The Stranglers embarked on a French tour. On the fifth night out (June 20), the group were arrested in Nice when fans rioted over faulty sound equipment and caused a purported $250,000 in damage. Cornwell, Burnel, and Black (but not Greenfield) spent time in a French jail. Cornwell later wrote of his prison experiences in the book Inside Information.
With legal hassles cleared, The Stranglers completed their upcoming album, which UA held over as EMI acquired the label. Meanwhile, Cornwell and Burnel produced singles for the UA subsidiary Mainly Modern Records, which issued five 1980 singles with the catalog numbers STP 1–5.
Cornwell produced the a-side of STP 1 and both sides of STP 3. The first is “Keep On Running (Big Noise From the Jungle),” a post-punk Spencer Davis Group cover by the Tea Set. STP 3 is “Runaway” (b/w “Yeah,Yeah,Yeah,Yeah”) by the new wave one-off Ouida & the Numbers. Hugh placed an earlier Tea Set side, “Tri-X Pan,” at No. 4 on his All Time Top Ten list in a 1981 issue of Smash Hits.
Burnel produced the a-side of STP 5: “It Really Doesn’t Matter” by the one-off act Sirens. For the Belgian label Sandwich, he produced “Nagasaki Mon Amour” (b/w “Hiroshima 1945”), the second single by Brussels electro band Polyphonic Size.
“Bear Cage”, “Who Wants the World”
“Bear Cage” (2.55) Hugh portrays a “young man losing his youth” who “swims with the sharks” and resorts to “selling anything (cars, meat)… just to live like a king.” He admits that this makes him “Feel ashamed as I live a disgrace.” The acronym GMBH (German abbreviation for Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung — company with limited liability) surfaces as partial initials in the chorus line: “Gee, (G) I’m (M) living (B-H) in a bear cage.”
The video features angled zoom-ins of The Stranglers in a park with a clown and picnicking circus performer. The band appears in an active WWII bomber. They reappear at a crash site, where Jean and Dave usher Hugh into Bearline (an amusement park), where he stumbles about an lip syncs amid colored smoke and strange activities. Hugh sports his trademark black leather jacket while the others don red blazers.
On May 29, 1980, The Stranglers released “Who Wants the World,” backed with “The Meninblack (Waiting For ‘Em).”
“Who Wants the World” (3:16) is sung from the point of view of alien Earth invaders that can’t distinguish man from fleas and witness a sad state; possibly due to their inability to communicate with Earthlings (“Please allow me to re-arrange your face sometimes I’d really like to get to know you better”) or understand the terror caused by their presence.
In the video, The Stranglers are seen day and night (through a fisheye lens) miming on a valley slope; intercut with scenes of the a man in a bowler hat with a sandwich board sign emblazoned with the title slogan. Jet Black, who stands throughout, plays a kit comprised of four snare drums and a hi-hat.
Alan Winstanley produced the two songs, which both made the UK Top 40.
In the US, where the Stranglers’ post-1978 output had gone unreleased, I.R.S. Records issued IV, a compilation with the two latest a-sides (“Bear Cage” is identified as “G.m.b.H.”) and another new non-album track, “Vietnamerica.” IV also contains both sides of the “Five Minutes” single and five Raven tracks: “The Raven,” “Baroque Bordello,” “Duchess,” “Nuclear Device,” and “Meninblack.”
“Vietnamerica” (4:09) refers to the Americanization of Vietnamese refugees in the US. Hugh sings laconic metaphors about their torn relations (“Lose their friendship”), ravaged homes (“Cry in ancient lands”), brutal leaders (“Fatal dividers”), and newfound experience with American gluttony (“Pleasures enraptured”) and secularism (“The pagan values”).
1981: Fifth and Sixth Album
The Stranglers released two albums on Liberty, UA’s new name under EMI.
Polyphonic Size – P.S.
Hazel O’Connor “Hanging Around”
The Gospel According to the Meninblack
The Stranglers released their fifth studio album, The Gospel According to the Meninblack, on February 9, 1981, on Liberty. Cornwell sings lead on six tracks, including the nucleus of Side A, which is bookended by the instrumentals “Waltzinblack” and “Turn the Centuries, Turn.” Side B features a lead vocal apiece by Burnel (“Thrown Away”) and Greenfield (“Four Horsemen”).
The songs explore the “Meninblack” theme introduced on their prior album The Raven and invoked on their recent single “Who Wants the World.” Here, the meninblack suppress the truth about alien activity and use religion to fool the public about supernatural phenomenon.
“Just Like Nothing on Earth” (3:55) Hugh sings rapidfire alliterations about lurid encounters (“A woman in Wellington wet her whistle with a wild man, from way back when”) and supernatural events (“A man on the main motor mile mesmerized much monkey magic, meandering piecemeal”).
“Second Coming” (4:22) Hugh sings of unthinking TV viewers (“sleeping awake in their homes”) tuned into false prophets. In the third verse, he questions whether the next divinity might be an alien (“He may be ugly and have problem hair, even speak funny and make all the people stare”).
“Waiting for the Meninblack” (3:44) Hugh seeks out vantage points (chimney stacks, hill tops) where he’ll catch a (possibly second) glimpse of aliens or UFOs, knowing that the meninblack will come after him for witnessing such phenomenon.
“Turn the Centuries, Turn” (4:35)
“Two Sunspots” (2:32) Hugh sings of sunspots and what they indicate about solar activity and its effect on temperature and weather.
“Four Horsemen” (3:40) Dave challenges the title’s concept (“some product of mad man’s minds”) from a secular standpoint. (In the Book of Revelation, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — a portent for mass extinction — invoke disease, war, famine, and death.) In the context of this album, the narrator possibly mistakes aliens for the four horsemen: “Their gifts much worse than the three kings” (Biblical Magi — aka the Three Kings — bearers of gold, frankincense (fragrance), and myrrh (medicine)).
“Thrown Away” (3:30) Jean addresses regret and wasted chances with the realization that each choice taken is “just one set of chances” with the others thrown away.
“Manna Machine” (3:17) Hugh sings of a lost, mummified food machine with analogies to Moses (“After forty years and after forty nights, making some food for the Israelites”)
“Hallow to Our Men” (7:26) Hugh welcomes aliens and their food onto Earth (“Give us this day some of your manna, as this desert is no Savannah”) with the assumption that they are the master race (“your world is better than ours… the extent of your power, it will outlast ours”).
Sessions occurred piecemeal between January and August 1980 at Pathé and five additional studios: Musicland Studios (Munich), Startling Studios (Berkshire), RCA Studios (Rome), Pebble Beach Sound Studio (Worthing), and Eden Studios (London). The Stranglers self-produced Meninblack, which credits four engineers: Winstanley (“Waiting for the Meninblack,” “Two Sunspots”), Aldo Bocca (“Just Like Nothing on Earth,” “Turn the Centuries, Turn”), Laurence Diana (“Waltzinblack,” “Four Horsemen”), and Churchyard (the rest). Bocca worked on albums by Joe Jackson (Look Sharp), Fischer-Z (Word Salad), and assisted Burnel and Churchyard on Lizard. He also co-engineered Punishment of Luxury with Diana, who worked on recent albums by Modern Eon and Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark (Organisation).
Meninblack is housed in a marble gatefold with the song titles and credits in Roman font calligraphy by Jim Gibson. The back cover features the lyrics to “Hallow to Our Men” with each line justified with tiny meninblack icons. The inner-gates display the 1498 Leonardo Da Vinci mural The Last Supper as it appeared in the 1970s (before its modern restoration). The band members are identified thematically as Hughinblack, JJinblack, Daveinblack, and Jetinblack.
“Thrown Away” appeared two weeks in advance as the album’s first single, backed with the exclusive “Top Secret.”
“Top Secret” concerns the private moral misgivings of a maninblack, who knows the truth behind supernatural occurrences yet is duty-bound to keep information suppressed and memory-holed.
Liberty lifted a second single, “Just Like Nothing on Earth,” with the non-album b-side “Maninwhite.”
“Maninwhite” concerns a TV preacher, who possibly serves as a distraction in the alien-infested Earth (the meninblack want people to believe that supernatural phenomenon is an act of God). The lyrics serve as a broadside on the pray-TV industry and its impact on gullible viewers (“Talks good and he looks the part, got a PR job that’s very smart, got God’s phone number stamped on his heart”).
The Gospel According to the Meninblack reached No. 8 on the UK Albums Chart. In North America, the album appeared in a single sleeve on Stiff Records.
The Stranglers released their sixth album, La Folie, on November 9, 1981, on Liberty. Burnel sings the two side closers (“The Man They Love to Hate,” “La Folie”) and co-sings “It Only Takes Two to Tango” with Cornwell, who sings the remaining eight songs.
“Non Stop” (2:29) Hugh sings of a “nonstop nun” and her devotion to the Lord almighty in vaguely erotic terms (she thinks of God as “the best lover… better than any other”). He says that she “never two times with the rest of the clan’,” suggesting that her devotion is rare in the convent.
“Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead” (2:41) explores the notion that genius is rarely recognized in its own time (“When you’re alive they won’t care what you said, what you deserve and all the blood you bled”).
“Tramp” (3:04) Hugh examines a homeless man’s routine (“life is the next meal away”) and road scars (“read the lines on a tramp’s face”). He questions the man’s background and relation to possible loved ones (“A lost woman long ago; does she miss him, does he know?”) In the chorus, Hugh equates the tramp’s quest with the common man:
Taking his time just like you, just like me
Wandering so fancy free
Searching for love in the call of the wild
Traveling lost like a child
“Let Me Introduce You to the Family” (3:07) Hugh presents measured couplets in which statements of family loyalty veil darker meaning (“family” as in mafia clan). He alludes to mafia hits (“friends will fall for the family”), contracts (“can’t outrun the family”), and underworld payoffs (“through thick and thin it will help me”).
“Ain’t Nothin’ to It” (3:56) has lyrics credited to American jazz clarinetist Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow (1899–1972). Hugh jive-talks about assorted urban characters, including a miser and a streetwalker.
“The Man They Love to Hate” (4:22) Jean sings about dangerous men who attract women despite the red flags. One seems to have offed his parents (“though they were God’s own people, they’re still the ones he loves to hate”); one has a violent and possibly contagious background (“His father was a fighter, and he practised on his son”). In the final couplet, the woman finally leaves as an act of tough love.
“Pin Up” (2:46) Hugh examines the vintage pinup from the speechless, two-dimensional perspective of the WWII navy man (“she’s very well known only in the one stance… lives on his locker door”).
“It Only Takes Two to Tango” (3:37) Hugh and Jean use the idiom as a metaphor for Cold War escalation between the two superpowers.
“Golden Brown” (3:28) Hugh analogizes cocaine to sex. He compares the drug’s euphoric effects to physical gratification (“lays me down, with my mind she runs”) and likens its addictive qualities to lust (“finer temptress”). He references the drug’s trade route’s (“through the ages she’s heading west”) and equates each supply to a fling (“stays for a day”).
“How to Find True Love and Happiness in the Present Day” (3:04) Hugh sings of people in love with man-made concepts (money, power, travel) who find themselves unfulfilled without romantic love.
“La Folie” (6:04) Jean sings in French about the madness (la folie) of Issei Sagawa (1949–2022), a Paris-based Japanese doctoral student (and longtime predator) who commited the June 1981 murder, necrophilia, and cannibalization of Frenchwoman Renée Hartevelt. The French courts deemed hims insane and deported him to Japan custody, where his case pended as The Stranglers recorded La Folie. (Japanese psychologists deemed his crime an act of sexual perversion, not insantity. Under Japanese law, they couldn’t hold him because he was misdiagnosed in France, which sealed its records when it handed the case to Japan. In August 1986, five years after the crime, Japan freed Sagawa, who lived out his life as a macabre celebrity.)
Sessions took place in August–September 1981 at Manor Studio, a mansion facility in Shipton-on-Cherwell owned by Virgin co-founder Richard Branson. The Stranglers co-produced La Folie with Churchyard, who worked on recent albums by the dB’s, Riuichi Sakamoto, Taxi Girl, and UFO. The album was mixed at Good Earth Studios by owner Tony Visconti, a longtime David Bowie soundman who worked on recent recordings by Afraid of Mice, The Boomtown Rats, Dexys Midnight Runners, Hazel O’Connor, and Private Lives.
La Folie came in a single sleeve with a water-logged image of the foursome by photographer Phil Jude, who tool the Live (X Cert) and IV covers as well as earlier visuals for Automatic Fine Tuning, Budgie, Colosseum II (Electric Savage), Gary Boyle (The Dancer), Isotope, Kraan, Neil Ardley, Patrick Moraz (The Story of i), and Seventh Wave. The back shows a blurred, pink-framed live shot of The Stranglers by one Ava Carrier. Shoot That Tiger! did the inner-sleeve, which lists the album’s credits according to the diagram of a human heart. The other side contains lyrics with correlating graphics, including images of Che Guevara (“Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead”) and Marilyn Monroe (“Pin Up”). Tiger graphics also appear on the Polydor version of Worlds Apart, the 1981 fourth album by Saga.
“Let Me Introduce You to the Family” appeared one week earlier as the album’s lead-off single, backed with the IV rarity “Vietnamerica.” The second single, “Golden Brown,” appeared in January 1982 with the non-album b-side “Love 30.”
“Golden Brown” reached No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart, where it crested under “Town Called Malice” by The Jam. The Stranglers mimed “Golden Brown” on the Jan. 14 broadcast of TotP, which aired the song between hits by Altered Images and Kool & the Gang and reaired it on the 28th (between Haircut One Hundred and Stiff Little Fingers) and twice in February on the 11th (between Bananarama+Fun Boy Three and Bow Wow Wow) and the 18th (between Soft Cell and “Precious” by The Jam).
La Folie reached No. 8 on the UK Albums Chart. “Tramp” was tapped as the third single but Burnel lobbied for the title-track, which Liberty backed with “Waltzinblack.”
1982: Comeback, Single, Label Change
Polyphonic Size – Live For Each Moment / Vivre Pour Chaque Instant
“Strange Little Girl”
“Strange Little Girl” (2:40) Hugh sings of a niave and innocent yet mysterious young woman with wanderlust. He seems concerned about her well-being and apparent un-preparedness for her undertakings:
She didn’t know how to live in a town that was rough
It didn’t take long before she knew she had enough
Walking home in her wrapped up world
She survived but she’s feeling old
And she found all things cold
“Cruel Garden” (2:17) Hugh uses “hungry madams” and “birds of prey” as metaphors for predators and prey in the cruel garden of modern-day life.
The Stranglers mimed “Strange Little Girl” on the July 22 broadcast of TotP, which re-aired it on August 5 between numbers by Bad Manners and Dexys. “Strange Little Girl” reached No. 7 on the UK Singles Chart.
1983: Seventh Album
Burnel and Greenfield Fire & Water (Ecoutez Vos Murs),
six parts of a “series” about a man named Vladimir
The Stranglers released their seventh album, Feline, on January 22, 1983, on Epic. The album takes its name from the first line in “European Female,” one of two songs (along with “Paradise”) sung by Burnel in his now-patented airy whisper.
“European Female (In Celebration of)” (3:59) Jean describes a “feline” — a green-eyed, mysterious Euopean woman who moves with “with ease and grace.” He sees her in multiple places (the Strasse, the Rue) and envisions him and her “together for a thousand years.”
“Paradise” (3:46) Jean seeks the idealized Paris and London of the 1920s (glamour), only to find the cities marked with post-war ruin (dispair). The only way to find paradise is to “freeze frame a moment” of a place in its glamour phase.
“All Roads Lead to Rome” (3:50) Hugh uses the idiom with imagery of “the citadel” and “yellow chariots race” to state how the paths of the rich (“beasts from the end of the century, adorn themselves with jewellery”) and the poor (“peasants and their peasants’ smells”) each lead in peroetuity (“endless games played in the timeless zone”) to the same destinations.
“Blue Sister” (3:57) Hugh consoles a grieving woman whose lover dissapeared under shady circumstances in a place (“That scene’s not a new one to you, you’ve seen it a million times too”) where such occurences are common.
“Never Say Goodbye” (4:10) Hugh waxes poetic on the continuum of nightime comforts that end too soon (“black friend of the night, why did you leave in such a hurry?”) and daytime conflicts that go unresolved (“white friend of the day, you left us juggling our worries”). He acknowledges the cycle’s perpetuity and how resolutions seem impossibly distant (“save them all for the next century”) but wonders if true answers even exist (“what’s over the horizon, is it worth the chance to hang around for more suprising?”)
The Stranglers recorded Feline in September 1982 at ICP Studios in Brussels, Belgium. Churchyard co-produced the album in succession with titles by Alice Cooper, Classix Nouveaux, Cliff Richard (“Please Don’t Fall In Love”), Dave Davies, and Status Quo.
Feline sports an embossed black cover with the outline of a panther. The art director, Nick Marchant, also has visual credits on Epic titles by the Nick Straker Band, The Only Ones, and Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club (English Garden). The inserts include promo material for Strangled, now in its sixth year. Early European copies include the bonus one-sided 7″ “Aural Sculpture,” a spoken-word piece cut with Visconti at Good Earth.
The Stranglers previewed Feline with the Christmas 1982 single release of “European Female,” backed with the exclusive “Savage Breast.” The Stranglers mimed “European Female” on the January 6 broadcast of TotP, which slotted them before a singer they once covered, Dionne Warwick. “European Female” re-aired on the Jan. 10 TotP broadcast ahead of a current charting cover, “You Can’t Hurry Love,” the Supremes evergreen cultivated by Phil Collins. “European Female” reached No. 9 on the UK Singles Chart.
Feline reached No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and went Top 20 in New Zealand and Norway. “Midnight Summer Dream” appeared in a secial single mix, backed with part 1 of the Vlademir series, titled “(The Strange Circumstances Which Lead To) Vladimir and Olga (Requesting Rehabilitation in a Siberian Health Resort as a Result of Stress in Furthering the People’s Policies).” A third single, “Paradise,” appeared in July 1983 with the non-album b-side “Pawsher.”
Playgroup – Play Group
The Stranglers released their eighth album, Aural Sculpture, on November 5, 1984, on Epic. Hugh Cornwell sings everything apart from “North Winds,” a ballad with ominous global forecasts. Several songs (“Ice Queen,” “Uptown,” “Mad Hatter”) contain rapidfire couplets with middle-rhymes. On “Skin Deep” and “No Mercy,” Hugh offers brotherly advice to the modern man.
“Ice Queen” (4:01) Hugh plays a losing hand of cards with a melting icewoman; possibly a metaphor for dicey situations in romance or business. Every other line has a middle rhyme:
“Skin Deep” (3:53) Hugh advises a brother on how to navigate friendships, emotions, and challenges that are only skin-deep (i.e. temporary or superficial).
“Let Me Down Easy” (4:10) is Hugh’s plea for mercy after rough times. When his “eyelids close with the weight of a 100 years,” he wants his boat to “slip away into a calmer sea.”
“No Mercy” (3:38) Hugh addresses the conman man’s challenges (work, love, goals) and how fulfillment in each area is equal parts effort and pure luck because “life shows no mercy.”
“North Winds” (4:03) Jean laments the state of the world as war, genocide, famine, and disease plague the East and the Global South. He reveals that wind and waves are his only consolation from impending doom:
I use to dream about destruction
Now that I feel it getting near
I spend my time watching the ocean
And waves are all I want to hear
“Uptown” (2:57) Hugh saddles up for a horse race at the track uptown; possibly a metaphor for the Thatcher-era rat race.
“Spain” (4:13) Hugh describes Spain and its visitor-friendly features: horseback tours, wineries, sunshine. He laments the nation’s delayed emergence from the WWII era (with the 1975 death of dictator Francisco Franco).
“Laughing” (4:12) Hugh laments Motown legend Marvin Gaye, who was shot to death by his father on April 1, 1984; one day before the singer’s 45th birthday. Cornwall pays respect to the star (“You’re laughing; we’re carving your name in a tree for the kids to see”) and acknowledges the singer’s tragic and unusual cause of death. The song’s arrangement resembles Gaye’s 1982 comeback hit “Sexual Healing.”
“Souls” (2:41) Hugh envisions himself in an ancient civilization where he climbs a temple hill each day and offers hearts to a diety that eats souls.
“Mad Hatter” (4:00) Hugh attends a party where assorted guests (referred to as Cheshire cat, water rat, and Juju) are under the influence of different drugs. The crazy-eyed titular character is parks the most interest with his “stories tall” and “winning smile.”
Sessions occurred at ICP with producer–engineer Laurie Latham, a onetime soundman for Ian Dury (New Boots and Panties!!) whose recent work included titles by Jacqui Brookes and Paul Young. Aural Sculpture features additional engineering by IBC staffers Christian “Djoum” Ramon (Chris Craft, Cos, Sunhouse) and Erwin Autrique (Elton Motello, Jo Lemaire).
A three-piece brass section — trumpeter Paul Spong (I Level, Wham, Working Week), trombonist Paul Nieman (Centipede, Mike Westbrook, National Health), and saxophonist Tim Whitehead (Ray Russell, Harry Beckett, Loose Tubes) — augments “Ice Queen”, “Punch and Judy,” and “Mad Hatter.” The last of those, along with “Let Me Down Easy” and “No Mercy,” feature backing vocals by George Chandler, Jimmy Chambers, and Tony Jackson. Chandler (Olympic Runners, Gonzalez) and Chambers (Dada, Batti Mamzelle) harmonized twenty years earlier in the Four Kents (along with Charles Hilton Brown) and recently partook in Brit funksters Central Line. Chambers and Jackson cut two singles in the disco-funk trio Midnight.
Photographer John Kisch took the Aural Sculpture cover image, which shows The Stranglers positioned like statues near a giant stone-carved ear by sculptor (and Cornwell’s brother-in-law) John King. The album’s title is engraved at the base of the sculpture. The back cover features ear photos of each member by Brian Griffin, whose photography also appears on titles by Bill Nelson, Dire Straits, Echo and the Bunnymen, Peter Hammill (The Future Now), Random Hold (Etceteraville), and The Teardrop Explodes.
“Skin Deep” appeared in September as the album’s lead-off single, backed with the exclusive “Here and There.” The Stranglers mimed it on the October 4 broadcast of TotP. A third track, “Vladimir and the Beast (Part III),” appears on a 12″ version of the single. “Skin Deep” reached No. 15 on the UK Singles Chart and also went Top 20 in Australia, Belgium, Ireland, and New Zealand.
“No Mercy” was the second single, backed with the non-album “In One Door.” A special shaped-picture-disc edition recreates the aural sculpture. A 12″ version includes a third track, the instrumental “Hot Club.”
“Let Me Down Easy” appeared as the third single in February 1985, backed with the exclusive “Achilles Heel.” A 12″ version includes three additional tracks: “Plaice de Victoires” (instrumental), “Vladimir Goes to Havana” (part 4 in the Vladimir series), and “The Aural Sculpture Manifesto.”
“Achilles Heel” acknowledges the “inviting thrill” of a trap door that (despite its possible dangers) could help him escape from the grind and stress of everyday life.
Aural Sculpture went Top 20 in the UK, Germany, and New Zealand. It also reached the Swedish and Dutch Top 40. In the US, the album made inroads in select urban markets, including San Francisco, where The Quake (KSOL, 98.9 FM) rotated select Aural tracks.
“One In a Million” “Siren Song”
The Revenge – Wartime
A Marriage of Convenience – My Young Dreams
Nigel Planer – Rough With The Smooth (Theme From King & Castle)
X Mal Deutschland – Matador
Laurent Sinclair – Devant Le Miroir
Beranek – Daylight In The Dark
The Dave Howard Singers – Rock On
Ping Pop – Just Another Lazy Day
Sessions took place in March–April 1986 at ICP and three English studios: Spaceward Studios (Cambridge), Crescent Studios (Bath), and Farmyard Studios (Little Chalfont). The Stranglers co-produced Dreamtime with Mike Kemp, a soundman on earlier titles by Gary Numan (Tubeway Army), Modern English, The Soft Boys, and Spriguns. The engineer, Owen Morris, worked on subsequent albums by The Bible (Eureka), Dizrhythmia, and Bill Bruford‘s Earthworks.
- Stranglers IV (Rattus Norvegicus) (1977)
- No More Heroes (1977)
- “5 Minutes” / “Rok It to the Moon” (1978)
- Black and White (1978)
- “Walk On By” / “Old Codger” / “Tank” (1978)
- The Raven (1979)
- The Gospel According to the Meninblack (1981)
- La Folie (1981)
- “Strange Little Girl” / “Cruel Garden” (1982)
- Feline (1983)
- Aural Sculpture (1984)
- Dreamtime (1986)
- 10 (1990)
- Discogs: The Stranglers
- English Albums: S (page 8)
- 45worlds: The Stranglers
- 45cat: The Stranglers
- Concerts Wiki: The Stranglers
- Setlist.fm: The Stranglers
- Top of the Pops Episode Guide
- Fonts In Use: The Stranglers Band Logo
- Strangled Magazine Archive
- MOJIM: Stranglers lyrics
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