Most fans will probably go for Stranglers IV (Rattus) or Black and White, but for me The Gospel According to the Men In Black and Feline are where it’s at. I just love those two records. Fans will always argue about which album is the best (or their personal favourite) from the classic line up, but the one that will always remain on the bottom of the pile is the atrocious Aural Sculpture.
Bless them, you can appreciate that they are trying to do something different, and follow up the low key and laid-back (but rather successful) Feline with an album that takes them even further away from their punk roots, but the horrible mishmash that is Aural Sculpture should never have seen the light of day. Feline was their first Top Five LP since the Raven: Aural Sculpture saw them struggle to get in to the Top 20, and of the three singles issued, only one was a reasonable hit.
It would have made a great mini-album, or even EP. The collection has a couple of decent numbers, notably Ice Queen, No Mercy and lead single Skin Deep, but for the most parts it’s flabby and the addition of a horn section was a shocking mistake. It’s clear that the group are going for a more soulful groove here, but many of the lyrics are of 14 year-old schoolboy level, and nowhere is that more in evidence that the absolutely dreadful Mad Hatter. Even if you can live with the obtrusive horns, and even if the more tranquil tracks on La Folie or Feline had warned you that things were indeed changing nothing – but nothing – can prepare you for the horrendous backing vocals.
Listening back to the album today, it’s actually aged pretty well, but Mad Hatter still makes me want to reach for a bucket. The group paved the way for the album with the pompous, pretentious and frankly ridiculous Aural Sculpture Manifesto, issued as a one-sided freebie with some copies of Feline and played as opening ‘music’ at live dates to promote the album. I saw them on that tour… and believe me when I tell you that it didn’t go down well with the ‘traditional’ Stranglers audience. Trivia fans might like to know that the cassette version of Aural Sculpture included a ZX Spectrum computer game, Aural Quest, which could be loaded using the Spectrum’s usual tape loading method.
Anyway, see what you think. Here’s Mad Hatter and Aural Sculpture Manifesto... the nadir of the 'real' Stranglers' career.
Download Hatter HERE
Download Sculpture HERE