Monday, 13 May 2019

The Stranglers - Aural Sculpture (1984)


Released November 1984

The Stranglers had progressed from punk, to post punk, to dense electronica to finally reach some peace of mind with this sensitive (yes, really), often reflective and lyrically philosophical album. Musically is it both laid-back but also quite infectiously poppy. Maybe these overgrown punks had grown up at last. This is a very considered, adult album, unrecognisable as being from the band that gave us "Peaches" and "Hanging Around". It is almost like a different band. The Spanish guitar remains from the previous album, but is now joined by a three piece horn section and the welcome return of some lead guitar and "proper" drums, as opposed to programmed ones.


1. Ice Queen
2. Skin Deep
3. Let Me Down Easy
4. No Mercy
5. North Winds Blowing
6. Uptown
7. Punch And Judy
8. Spain
9. Laughing
10. Souls
11. Mad Hatter
12. Here And There                                            

"Ice Queen" is a sensual but punchy groover of a track, nothing much like anything the group had previously done, with big horn sections on the backing. "Skin Deep" is a beguiling and melodic number with an excellent, tuneful and mature vocal from Hugh Cornwell and some OMD-style drums. "Let Me Down Easy" is a delightful number, difficult to describe, almost sixties-influenced in places and soulful too. All delivered with a catchy, poppy beat. "No Mercy" is another entrancing song, new wave-ish and commercial in aspect.

Both the melodic "North Winds Blowing" and the quirky "Uptown" are thoroughly appealing tracks too. The latter is probably the closest to a being a recognisable Stranglers track. "Punch And Judy" is a riffy slice of piano and horns-driven Elvis Costello-style new wave fare. It's a great track. Lovely bass line underpinning it. It almost sounds a bit Northern Soul-ish with its "In Crowd" horn riff. Check out that bass and rhythm on the captivating "Spain". Are you sure this is The Stranglers? It comes complete with female Spanish spoken vocal parts too.

"Laughing" is a tranquil, soulful song that could be The Style Council. "Souls" is slightly Doors-esque but also featuring a poppy, new romantic sound. "Mad Hatter" has the band going all jazzy with a "doo-wop" vocal backing. All very incomprehensible as a Stranglers track but none the worse for it. Fair play to them for experimenting with totally different material. "Here And There" is great, with a new romantic-style haughty vocal and a punchy drum beat. Its backing is a bit like Culture Club meets Haircut 100 - yes, I know. Seriously, there is not a bad track on this truly excellent album. There is a fair case for this being The Stranglers' best offering.


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