Top positive review
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Keep Moving, but pause to buy this!
on 23 June 2010
Every great band should have an album like this in their back catalogue: more musically mature than their debut set, more diverse than their second album, containing hit singles, although not as big as those on the difficult third album and far easier to digest than the concept album that followed the first greatest hits. Yeah, all great bands should have an album that holds a special place in many fans' hearts as the one that distilled everything the band could do into one fine blend.
Madness are a great band, make no mistake about that.
Keep Moving was Madness's 1984 album. The cover photo was awful, although the fonts for the band name and album title are amongst my favourites. The reason I mention this? Madness were always a very visual band, to such an extent that when I'm listening to the music without a video I see shapes and patterns in the music. Perhaps this is something I shouldn't admit to on a public forum, but who cares? Keep Moving is Madness's most shapely album and I love it unashamedly.
This album gets 6 stars out of 5 from me.
Until The Liberty Of Norton Folgate album came along in 2009 it was, without any doubt, my favourite Madness album. Now it sits somewhere in my top two Madness albums.
There are so many reasons for this: Keep Moving includes my favourite Madness single in One Better Day, my long-time favourite album track in March Of The Gherkins, some of the best lyrics the band had written on Time For Tea and the utterly utterly sublime Prospects. All that and then there are those points in the music that make you love it: A gap here, a wonderful Thommo sax solo there, Suggs really starting to make his mark as a singer as well as a vocalist, that trademark thing Bedders does with his bass, the wonderful use of strings, Chris's chugalong songs and measured use of his axe, (he's seemingly always playing at odds with the songs!). Carl's vocals very much come to the fore on this album, which almost led him to take lead vocals on 2 successive Madness singles. Woody's drumming is insistent and suggests he could have been ready to take a greater role in Madness's compositional and arrangement process.
Speaking of which Woody and Bedders wrote one song apiece for this album and they were both singles: Woody's gorgeous circular composition given sinister lyrics and vocals by Carl became Michael Caine (probably Madness's most subversive single), whilst Bedders's tune built around a very simple repetitive bassline and beautiful melody became Madness's singular highlight for this listener with Suggs's lyric and vocal turning it into One Better Day. For me this is four minutes of pure heaven. From Lee's mellow sax solo intro, through Suggs's sorrowful/beautiful story, the strings, Chris's lazy guitar sweeps, that gorgeous rhythm section and Barson's "Punch The Clock" keyboards and on to Lee's insistent hopeful sax solo at the end. It's a real hairs up on the back of your neck song, so long as you have a heart and soul. Why Bedders hasn't composed more I'll never know. Like Woody he definitely goes for quality over quantity...
The Our House musical drew heavily on this album, whilst the first comeback album, Wonderful, seemed like a step on from this album 15 years later and it is this Madness that I hear live to this day. This is also the mature Madness who released their real masterpiece The Liberty Of Norton Folgate a quarter of a century on from Keep Moving.
As far as I'm concerned it was this album on which Madness put forward their real statement of intent. Which makes it all the stranger and sadder that founder member and key arranger/co-songwriter Mike Barson was making his plans to depart the band even as recording progressed on the album.
As has been ably displayed over the albums up to this point, all of the band members were capable writers and could work in a variety of collaborative pairings, but it seems likely that many of these compositions did not become Madness songs until they were rehearsed around Barson's piano in the studio.
So why you ask should I buy this album? Well let's see now lyrical subjects covered: the plight of the homeless, the increasingly ugly Thatcher's Britain, glue sniffing and kids dying accidentally in abandoned fridges. The Ku Klux Klan, more regret and soul searching on a teenage life of crime, the plight of immigrants pulled to the UK when Britain had a labour shortage, but unwanted in times of unemployment. A song made all the more poignant by Suggs subtly naming two of Madness's (then much smaller clan of) children in the first two lines! IRA informants and temper and violence also get a look in along the way.
Again you ask why should I buy this album? Haven't you just told me it's a right depressing set of songs? Well no it isn't. However this album isn't frippery or pretentious and it certainly doesn't resort to frivolity. Madness simply do what they do best: they present the songs to their fans, leaving them to make of them what they will. I know many people who have never considered what the lyrics mean as long as they can sing and/or dance along. I know plenty more who have also been able to appreciate the depth in the songwriting.
This album is quite simply brilliant.
Oh I nearly forgot, this package includes an extra disc with b sides and non-album singles. This album would have been much bigger commercially when originally released if Wings Of A Dove and The Sun And The Rain had been on the main album and not just the picture disc issued some time later. Three of these b sides feature Lee Thompson on lead vocals. If you've never heard Fireball XL-5 or One's Second Thoughtlessness now's your chance. Actually, make that 4, I think he's on behind The 8 Ball as well as Sarah. (You may guess I'm somewhat of a Thompson fan!)
The remixes are of much better vintage than those on The Rise And Fall, especially as it's a case of one song, one remix unlike the multiple versions of Our House. Worthy of special mention is the 12" version of The Sun And The Rain, which must have been in the arranger's listening pile when planning the Our House musical, especially as it highlights the beauty of the string arrangements that had become such a trademark of the Madness sound by this stage. This mix also adds the element of drama. The 12 seconds from 3:08 on this mix encapsulate everything I love about Madness musically.
Then there's the throw away b sides If You Think There's Something and Guns. The former has an arrangement deserving far more than to be on the scuffed side of a 7", whilst the latter is a look at the arms race and the perceived terror that both caused and escalated it, that has a serious message that is still as valid in these post 9/11 days as it was in 1984. Meanwhile it has an arrangement that suggests the band had a hell of a lot of fun recording it...
The bonus disc is worth 5 stars on its own, even though there's nothing new here for the dedicated collector. It acts as a handy little compilation of songs and mixes.
Still not enough? You really do take some convincing don't you? Right you also get the videos to Wings Of A Dove, The Sun And The Rain, Michael Caine and One Better Day. You get the lyrics, you get deluxe gatefold packaging. Last and by no means least, you get a sleeve note written by fan of the band and this album in particular Phill Jupitus. Each album in this series has had a celebrity guest writer for the sleeve note. For many years now Mr Jupitus has publically championed this album, so he seemed the obvious candidate, you know unless it turned out that someone super famous like Michael Caine was a fan and was prepared to write.
About 9 months ago I had the opportunity to point Mr Jupitus's love for this album out to the record label (I know not if they had already planned to rope him in). On opening the package I was gladdened to find his pearls of wisdom. Not only that, but his reasons for loving the album are very similar to mine. The sleeve notes brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat, reminding me of what it felt like to hear this album for the first time in 1984.
The Olympics might be coming back around again, the country may have turned blue again, leaving me in the politics of opposition, but not to Mr Jupitus's notes or Madness's wonderful fifth album.
Buy it. Listen to it. Love it.