In the critical history of Madness they are a singles band who happened to make three great albums: Their début One Step Beyond... , their 2010 `comeback' album The Liberty Of Norton Folgate and this, their fourth album Madness Presents The Rise And Fall.
As a fan who has been there since receiving the début album as a Christmas present, when aged 11 in 1979 I'd certainly agree with the first two, but I never really paid much attention to Rise And Fall, giving it a few listens when it came out and then moving on. You see by then I was a teenager and I had choices. In 1982 going into 1983 I was presented with three brilliant albums by bands spawned by the 2Tone craze that first really awakened my interest in music. Unfortunately for Madness this meant I was wrapped up with The Beat's final album Special Beat Service (a phenomenal album to this day), and The Fun Boy Three's Waiting. Both clicked more than The Rise And Fall did, and of course I was still listening to Complete Madness (which makes four!).
This is not to say I didn't like The Rise And Fall, just that it was competing at a very high level for my attentions.
Today I can consider the album again, with only the simultaneous release of Madness's next album Keep Moving for competition. In that respect I can now fully appreciate just how good an album this was and is.
The original 13 tracks have been packaged with videos for four of their singles (Our House and Tomorrow's (Just Another Day) from this album and House Of Fun and Driving In My Car, which preceded it) as well as a 17 track bonus disc containing the good and the bad and the downright brilliant radio sessions, remixes and b sides that those 4 singles generated.
I'll go with the bonus material first. The first 4 tracks are made up of a Kid Jenson Session of four of the albums tracks. They are almost certainly inferior to the album versions, but the show the band working on arrangements of not quite finished songs. As such the collector wouldn't want to be without them. House Of Fun is presented in its single version and is a refreshing reminder that Madness had recently had their first number one when this album first came out.
The follow up single Driving In My Car is ridiculed by many, hated by plenty and often written off by the band, however I've long since believed it to be every bit as valid in the classic Britpop/coming of age/tale of real English life Kinks, Dury, Madness, Blur canon. A simple tale of the sort of clapped out car kids got as their first and the places they'd go or try to go in them. Driving In My Car is every bit a part of most youths' lives as buying their first condom (House Of Fun) or getting through school days (Baggy Trousers) or having trouble with your other half (My Girl). I hope they stick it back in the live set soon!
Other standout tracks on the bonus disc are Riding On My Bike (Lee Thompson's greener version of the song it is based on), Animal Farm a remix of Tomorrow's Dream from previous album 7. This track is absolute proof that 12" mixes from the 80s can still stand up today. Take a nightmarish album track, strip it down, dub it up and accentuate the snare drum and echo a few of the vocal lines and screams over it. This remix sounds as good to these ears in 2010 as it did in 1982.
The alternate version of Tomorrow's (Just Another Day) with Elvis Costello on vocals is worth the cost of this album package on its own. Presumably worked up when Langer/Costello and Bedders were working together on Shipbuilding for Robert Wyatt, the more jazzy setting is a great backdrop for Costello's reading of the song.
Other alternate versions and b sides on this disc will go down better with some than they do with me, but that is just personal taste. I must move onto the main album...
Originally the premise was supposed to be a concept album about growing up. Madness being Madness that was never going to happen. These days it can take 6 professional songwriters to collaborate to make a hit single for a reality show band. Then, as now, Madness had six primary songwriters, all of whom could turn their hand to lyrics. As a result Madness delivered an album about growing up, crime, introspection, reflection, politics, suicide and insanity.
Oh and their most recognisable song worldwide, Our House, was probably the only one that really fitted the original idea! It became their only major American hit, was a massive hit in the UK, a doormat, a tea towel, a musical and is to this day part of the all killer, no filler, showtime section of their gigs.
The album opens with the title track, which is (contrary to popular belief) set in Liverpool. Casey Street was where the Liverpool post punk crew hung around in the late 70s. Amongst those who lurked there were Pete Burns, Julian Cope, Echo And The Bunnymen, Pete Wylie. Somewhat ironically the area has all but been wiped off the face of the earth now. In 1982 Suggs was reflecting on the dereliction of Liverpool, still post-war and fighting Thatcher. I wonder what he'd make of the gentrified city of culture these days?
Tomorrow's (Just Another Day) was probably the only other obvious single on the album, despite dealing with regret over ruined friendships and having a strong lyrical suggestion of the character in the song serving a long stretch at Her Majesty's Pleasure. It also reads like a suicide note from an extremely troubled soul: "down and down there is no up", "why is it I, don't I always try?", "I think that I've run out of luck". The great Madness gift for duality made this another top ten smash and live favourite.
As a kid I could never understand Blue Skinned Beast properly. I realised it was an anti Thatcher lyric from Lee Thompson (you know him the funny little guy with the saxophone and red nose) and something to do with the Falklands Conflict. Only years later did I realise that the title was a reference to body bags and the pointless waste of life. It's sad to report that 28 years later nothing has been learned and families still receive bodies and posthumous medals in exchange for distant wars...
From here on the album is an almost complete suite of songs about madness and introspection. It is also where the brass band and strings really kick in as Madness were joined by a brass and string ensemble with arrangements by David Bedford. Primrose Hill is a stunning examination of agoraphobia, confusion and paranoia. The lyric makes it quite clear we're inside the mind of a confused and scared character, trapped inside their own house and mind, meanwhile the music starts with a pulsing piano riff, suggesting a lack of calm. As the song builds we get everything chucked at this man, too scared to venture out: cars, children playing on the park, a brass band and then the chorus is in the round. This poor man is hearing voices. And under it all we have one of what guitarist Chris Foreman has termed his "classic Madness chugger". Look through the back catalogue at who has written what and you'll see that Foreman writes songs with a certain punchiness: Baggy Trousers, Our House, That Close (and that's just 3 of the really celebrated ones).
Moving swiftly along we reach Mr Speaker (Gets The Word). I may be wrong, but this seems to be more confusion and delusions. Our character feels he has great things to tell the world. So much, in fact, that he cannot get them out cohesively. We will ultimately not know what the Word is. What we do know is that the prose at the start of the song quotes Horatio (a poem by Thomas Babington Macaulay), mixed up with biblical passages and parts of the Charge Of The Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tenyson. As an aside, Tenyson has also be quoted in song by Iron Maiden and The Divine Comedy!
Side one in old money was rounded off by Sunday Morning. Daniel Woodgate, Madness's drummer is nowhere near their most prolific writer, but every single one of his songs is quality. You don't believe me? Go look them up. Seriously, they are all gems. Our House is the hustle and bustle of family life in the family home, Sunday Morning, which precedes it on the track list, is the hungover, contented, restful, quiet comedown. It is every bit as evocative of real life as anything else in the Madness songbook, especially in that it looks at the minutiae of nothing really happening. It is a great. It also manages to subtly remind the listener of a time when things were better. Half the things paired with the word Sunday in this song are of the past. I won't be the first to notice that Madness were in their mid 20s when writing all this reminiscent, almost nostalgic material...
Side two, the remainder of the album, almost all takes place in a dream or in thought. Kept over from the sessions from the previous album Tiptoes is a nightmarish tale of suicide by jumping and/or mental illness in the form of schizophrenia. There is so much going on in this lyric it is easy to miss one of the main points that almost always comes up following a suicide: families rarely want to believe their loved one wanted to die. "Some say he was pushed, others say he fell", "he wanted to see some evidence that he could really fly". This is quite possibly the darkest of all Madness songs. We'll never know if he jumped, let alone if he meant to. This is something too many families have to go through after a suicide, mine included. Madness still manage to nutty it up a bit, with the suggestion that the jumper may have landed on a passer by!
New Delhi. Is it a dream? A nightmare? A trip? Every now and then Mike Barson writes a song that totally divides and baffles fans. This is one of them. Musically it is fantastic, but lyrically it is the album's one low point. The bit in cod Indian accents at the end is simply embarrassing. Read more ›