Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Aural Sculpture-track by track

Released in November 1984, Aural Sculpture was the band's eighth studio album. JJ talks us through each of the album's tracks although his memory is slightly sketchy of certain tracks as it was a period of some major personal issues for him:


At the time, when we were preparing Aural Sculpture, I had a lot of studio equipment in the back room of my house in Cambridgeshire including a Linn drum. Dave was living just up the road in Cambridge. He would come around to mine, we would go to the pub and play darts for a couple of hours, have a few pints and then we would work through the night, sometimes until two or three in the morning. I was getting riffs together and Ice Queen was my riff with Hugh's lyrics. The lyrics were about his girlfriend in New York who was a model. For me personally, the brass section's finest moment was when they came in on Ice Queen. It was the best manifestation of the brass...


That was originally a little blues riff of mine, Hugh took it away and wrote the lyrics to go with it. It was a little blues thing which I've since played on some of my acoustic dates. Between the ages of 14 and 17, my parents had a restaurant in Godalming, Surrey and there was a pub in the village which had a blues club every Sunday night. I saw lots of bands before they released their first albums there, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac were the most notable, although there were loads of other bands. I kind of played about with blues riffs as I liked the blues. I still like good blues musicians.


This was my music again and Hugh wrote the lyrics about my Dad (who was gravelly ill at the time) and I was very grateful that he did that. Hugh knew my Dad and came down to see me in the south of France when I was looking after him. I had spent the last month with my Dad who was in awful pain. Doctors and nurses were coming every day to give him injections to alleviate the pain. I used to carry him out onto the patio so he could get a bit of daylight. My Dad had died by the time that the album was released. It was very sympathetic of Hugh...


Definitely Hugh's lyrics. Epic were putting quite a lot of money behind the record and we were starting to do quite well in various places. No Mercy was deemed a worthwhile single so we did a video for it. It wasn't a bad video actually as I recall. We were dressed up as doctors and also appeared as ghostly sax players.


That was mine, just a JJ 'where things are now' song. It was one of my melancholy songs about the very strong images that had occurred during my life, while I was growing up. The 'Orange road burning' was about the self immolation of Buddhist priests during the Vietnam war, setting themselves on fire. The 'Youth on fire' referred to Jan Palak, who I'd talked about before on Euroman. The 'Metal machines...' line was about the Prague spring in '68, when the Czechs tried to be much more liberal and the Russian tanks just rolled in. 'Two generations' referred to the two world wars, 'Birth pains' was about the birth of Israel and what I remembered about the Yom Kippur war. 'Freedom in the shape of disease' was about AIDS, suddenly this new word AIDS had arisen when we were writing Sculpture. It was an unknown disease then. 'Kids whose bellies' was about the west and the rest of the world having so much food while there were images of kids with huge distended bellies starving on television. The title North Winds referred to where I was living in East Anglia which was subjected to winds from the North Sea and it gave a melancholy feel to living there...


Originally Uptown started off as a more RandB track but it changed once we were in the studio with Laurie. Hugh's lyrics referred to taking Cocaine rather than anything related to horse racing.


No fucking idea!!! I don't know how that got on the album, I must've been asleep... Aural Sculpture was a labour of love between Laurie and Hugh to be honest. Dave and I were almost secondary and we weren't seeing so much of the others, apart from crossing paths in the studio.


I used the Kinkade acoustic bass on that. Hugh was going to Spain more and more often and he had read a book written by Franco's daughter. We used a recording of her voice on that song. The lyrics were inspired by the Spanish Civil War.


It's an entirely Hugh song. The lyrics are about Marvin Gaye who had just been shot by his father before we started recording the album. We used an unprogrammable drum machine on this track, like I had used on the Euroman album, which was a Laurie Latham idea.


Quite a nice track with Hugh's lyrics about the ancient Mayan culture in Mexico. Hugh had a big contribution on this album, a lot more than mine, and I can't recall much more about some of these tracks. It's a long time ago and it wasn't the best time for me with my Dad's illness... I wasn't too complicit in the recording and was a bit detached at the time.


Mad Hatter was another Hugh track. It was about his little clique in Bath. He had these sycophants, all posh Bath boys who laughed at all his jokes. They weren't healthy for Hugh I think.

JJ Burnel/9th December 2014


  1. Great to see plenty of Hugh acknowledgement. He did a great version of Souls last week.

  2. Good stuff, keep it coming and don't forget the B sides

  3. Love Spain and most of all North Winds. This album I consider to be a turning point for the band to a mellowed style followed by Dream Time.

  4. nice explanations well done

  5. Always love to hear the story behind the song. Great read

  6. Thanks JJ looking forward to the dreamtime ratter

  7. Thanks great read and a great album.

  8. I've been a fan since 1983 and I learn something every time I read a Stranglers article! Thanks JJ! If I might add - the Spectrum computer game on the album was err...."sub-standard"!

  9. Thanks JJ, I love these track by track breakdowns. Personally, I think some of the best tracks from the AS sessions were consigned to be B-sides when they were better than some that made the final cut? Ice Queen, Skin Deep and Spain are the standouts for me.

  10. Again great read JJB especially on Let me down easy and Punch and Judy...Have a great Stranglemass...Brian Smith...(Lincoln UK)

  11. Not a big fan of the album at the time but find it a good listen now. Interesting as always to hear the story behind the song.

  12. Very interesting, cant wait for the next album breakdowns, although you could see the writing was on the wall for Hugh.

  13. Thanks JJ. Very open and honest view of things, and clearly a difficult time personally. All the best.

  14. GOOD MORNING ENGLAND !... cool; très intéressant même de connaître ce qui fait naître une chanson surtout une qu'on apprécie particulièrement. En même tps, l'avantage pour nous Français, c'était de ne pas comprendre toutes les paroles en anglais... ça fait travailler l'imagination... donc raconté comme ça c'est impec ! merci à vous deux de prendre du temps pour écrire. J'espère venir vous écouter à un de vos concerts en mars en Angleterre. Je choisirai en fonction de la taille de la salle. Et surtout, restez comme vous êtes... droits dans vos bottes as we say in french. A +-
    Anne -Paris

  15. It's 25 years since "10"! Any chance of a low-down on that?