For me, "La Folie" is the very greatest of all The Stranglers’ singles. The album of the same name, from which it was taken, and of which great things had been expected by their record company, had yielded two flop singles before the unexpected success of "Golden Brown", which itself had been tardily released almost as an afterthought. Presumably selected under the notion that pot luck was proving a more reliable guide than their own instincts, the record’s chances were effectively killed off by the refusal of Radio 1 to playlist it, their reasoning being that nobody wanted to buy records that weren’t sung in English.
The inspiration for the song came from a particularly gruesome murder that had happened earlier in the year that it was recorded, 1981. Issei Sagawa, a Japanese student of French Literature at the Sorbonne, had killed a beautiful Dutch fellow student, Renée Hartevelt, and then had sex with her corpse, before cutting pieces off it and eating them. When caught attempting to dump the mutiliated remains, he explained to the French police that he not unreasonably felt himself to be a "weak, ugly, and small man", and had hoped to acquire some of Hartevelt’s health and beauty by consuming her flesh.
Despite their name and ominous reputation, The Stranglers generally avoided the subjects of rape and murder, their misanthropy usually being more everyday, more mundane, more realistic. Instead of approaching the subject matter with the sort of priapic glee typical of some of their (oddly more acceptable) punk peers, they instead evoked a stately European grandeur - what Ultravox had attempted and failed to achieve with the camp fiasco that was "Vienna"
"La Folie" isn’t an attempt to glorify or condemn, but rather to understand. The tension within the song is that between the solemn, dignified flow of the synthesized melody, signifying the gravity of a young life taken, and Burnel’s lyrical attempt to summon within himself the kind of personal and social stresses that might provoke such madness; to understand, and perhaps identify, by feeling. The record resigns itself to failure - madness is inherent within the flow of life, perhaps within us all. But then again, perhaps not. We shrug our shoulders and look to the night sky.
Your vehicle doesn’t seem to have an occupant
Could you, would you let me in?
Or would that be too much trouble?
My boots won’t echo too much in your passageway
No noise accompanies my parting
No wasted moments for us
Waiting for an uncertain reunion
Because I’m mad, yes it is madness
There once was a student
Who had a great desire, as they say in books
His girlfriend was so sweet that by eating her,
He was able to reject all vices, repulse all evil,
Destroy everything beautiful
Which up until then, had never been known to him
Because he was mad, yes it is madness
And if sometimes you can confess to it
To whom can you reveal all?
even God himself has deserted us
Another life, another place
And of course, another story
But to whom can you open your heart
In the shadows of the night?
At dawn, at dusk
How may crimes have been committed
Against the deceits and so-called laws of the heart?
How many are here because of madness?
Because they are mad?