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on 21 January 2012
Rarely have I come across a book that's so over-rated by other reviewers. The 33 1/3 series aims to produce analytic yet accessible pocket books on great albums across a range of genres (check out John Dougan's fine study of The Who's 'Sell Out' for an example of how it should be done). Sadly this fails.
The author seems like a really nice man (honest, Terry). And he obviously knows Madness having been on the fringes of the group after growing up in Hornchurch, Essex, among West Ham Skinheads and Ford workers (there's a nice little vignette on why, in his words, 'Two Tone confused me').
But reading this book is like running into a roadie who's got a few chirpy tales about the making of some songs and wants to tell you all of them in detail over a pint or two. There is no contextual analysis whatsoever. Right at the end we get a paragraph-long epilogue that says 'Madness caught the end of the New Wave/Punk explosion'....and then it's all over.
Addressing the knotty issue of why a Two Tone band, that was part of the biggest anti-racist movement in British pop culture, had a large following of skinhead racists (not really the Nutty Boys' fault) all we get is 'an amusing tale' from Our Terry about how 'a black guy' once auditioned for Madness; apparently he backed out, saying 'You guys play too much reggae, I don't want to join the band!'
That's that awkward issue settled then...In terms of music journalism/cultural criticism it's the equivalent of a cabbie leaning over his shoulder at you and saying 'don't get me wrong, one of my mates is black'.
If you're a big Madness fan who wants an easy read that gives you lots of footnotes to a few of their songs without troubling your brain or feeding your soul, this is for you. But Greil Marcus it ain't. Think Steve Coogan's 'Saxondale' wearing a pork pie hat and you've saved yourself a fiver and an evening of your life.