The Stranglers had initially been the most commercially successful band of the punk/new wave period in Britain, but by 1981, their success had waned noticeably. La folie was a conscious attempt to deliver a more commercial product. The band's record company, EMI, sent them into the studio with the record producer, Tony Visconti, giving him a brief to "produce each song as if it was a hit single".
The album's French language title literally translates to "Madness". In various interviews, the band related that this referred to "The Madness of Love" and that conceptually, each of the songs on the album was intended to explore a different kind or aspect of "love". The title track is also said to be based upon the story of Issei Sagawa. Hugh Cornwell related in The Stranglers – Song by Song that the correct title of the album's opening track was "Non Stop Nun", and he apparently had been unaware that the record company had printed it as simply "Non Stop".
There has been much controversy surrounding the lyrics to "Golden Brown". In his 2001 book The Stranglers Song By Song, Hugh Cornwell clearly states "'Golden Brown' works on two levels. It's about heroin and also about a girl". Essentially the lyrics describe how "both provided me with pleasurable times".
Upon its release, La folie looked set to be the band's lowest-charting album, but, buoyed by the success of the album's second single, "Golden Brown", released 10 January 1982 and reaching No. 2 in the singles chart, the album eventually peaked at No. 11 in the UK Albums Chart, spending eighteen weeks in the chart. The single would go on to become EMI's highest-selling single for many years. One more single was released from the album, the album's title track "La folie", on 20 April 1982, which reached No. 47.