on 19 May 2009
As a huge Madness fan from the beginning, I always felt their best period of writing music came just after their huge run of Top 10 hits, from Rise & Fall to Mad Not Mad. Since then they released a solid album of new tracks in Wonderful and covers with The Dangermen and I have to say I thought perhaps it was time for them to call it a day.
When reading the media reviews for TLONF, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well received this album has been. Now that I've heard it myself I'm absolutely delighted to see how contemporary and fresh Madness sound.
I give it a 5-star as there are only a couple of slightly weaker tracks, whilst the high points are incredible. Madness sound crisp and optimistic throughout. Lyrics and stories are sharper than ever. Highlights for me are We are London, a glorious appreciation of the ecclectic mix of cultures that make up the Capital. Fabulous harmony on this one. Forever Young has the most catchy ska brass section, reminiscent of the Two-Tone bands. Dust Devil is a ska rooted track that might not capture you first time and then gets a bit infectious after you've heard it a few times. Written by Lee Thompson and Dan Woodgate, it reminds me a lot of the best work Lee did with Chris Foreman with spin off group Crunch. That Close is very much like the style Madness had with The Sun & The Rain in tempo, with tones of Embarrassment and the chromatic scales from Shut Up. MKII provides a break with a more laid back and slower tempo. On the Town has the most delightful chorus and is the only example I know of where Madness are supported by a female vocalist. The album version's vocals are performed by Rhoda Dakar, a favourite artist admired by many during the Two-Tone era. However, on the download version they are sung equally beautifully by Amber Jolene. It's good to see they included NW5, their single from 2008, on the playlist. Beautiful violin arrangements in this version and Suggs' melancholy voice make this a standout track. They save their best to last. Clerkenwell Polka brings a real smile to the face with an East European and German Oompa beat. The arrangements Madness can put together are really quite complex and show how they have moved on musically over the years.
Then there is the finale - The Liberty of Norton Folgate. I've read that some people find this a bit long at 10 minutes but have to disagree. This track is all of Madness in one amazing journey and I love it. The song has a number of different movements and is to Madness what Bohemian Rhapsody is to Queen or perhaps what Paranoid Android is to Radiohead. A cheeky nutty sounding opening 'with a little bit of this, would you like a bit of that' leads to Suggs telling us about the early history of the liberty. The track then gives way to a Vienesse Waltz section that talks about the darker side of life in the 1800s. Halfway through the song has a quick upbeat break about life around the area nowadays, with tradesmen trying to flog you whatever they can get a few bob for. The song then has the most amazing last 3 minutes. A riproaring ethnic and uplifting tale of how life changed with immigration. You don't quite know what to listen to, as so much is going on musically. Very prominent strings lead a kind of Asian influenced tango-like rhythm that you just feel you have to get up a dance to. What's incredible is that it all holds together and works. This song is more like a modern opera in 10 minutes and Madness deserve great credit for it.
Overall I very much hope this album does better than their last two because it's in a completely different class. I'm so pleased and excited to see a band I loved in my youth produce something so original.
on 3 October 2009
This review can be read in conjunction with the many which have already been left for the standard single music CD edition of Madness's 2009 album The Liberty of Norton Folgate. During the recording process for the album, Madness played 3 specially filmed concerts previewing much of the album at London's Hackney Empire. The new songs were met with almost unanimous praise from the Madness fans lucky enough to be present. Now you can find out why we were so impressed with the show and the songs.
The album is repackaged here with a DVD of the same title directed by legendary film maker Julien Temple. For the filming the theatre was turned into one complete film set. Character performers mingled with audience members, as did the camera crew. Madness were joined by a live string section (in the pit as is fitting for such a venue) and had a stage set enhanced by evocative back projection of images, landscapes, animations and films which illustrated the spirit of the songs.
Between songs we have a character narrative followed by Suggs and Chas Smash, out and about in shady London, taking us back to some of the periods in the history of the title track and masterpiece that is The Liberty Of Norton Folgate.
Add to that an assured performance of songs, many of which were getting their public début and you have yourself over two hours of fantastic entertainment.
If you have the music, you will enjoy the concert DVD. If you don't have the album yet, but have heard some of the glowing praise for it, buy this and put the DVD in first. That way you might, just might, be able to capture the excitement of those heady, heavy monster nights in Hackney where you had literally one chance to experience these new songs for the first and possibly only time.
Then you can put the CD in and prepare yourself to be surprised at just how good an album Madness made in their 30th year.
on 20 May 2009
This is the `comeback' album the Maddies should have released a decade ago, after their first extended hiatus. `Wonderful', released in 1999, had some excellent songs, but was also a little underwhelming as a whole.
No such failings with TLONF, which critics are understandably calling their best.
So good were the songs recorded between 2006 and 2008 that several didn't even make the final cut of 15; the rest saved for a special edition. Thankfully the sublime NW5 is restored to the `normal' version, which was due to be 12 tracks, but three were lifted at late notice from the 2-disc edition. Of these, Africa sounded like one of the weakest of the 22, although it actually works better in this setting than at the end of a second disc.
That great tracks like Mission From Hell, Hunchback Of Torriano, The Kiss and One Fine Day were excluded from the standard edition shows the depth of the material.
Personal favourites on TLONF are Sugar and Spice, Bingo, MKII and the sprawling title track, although there's not a bad song on it: a perfect mix of their Kinks-pop with the more ska-influenced sound. One song worthy of special mention is That Close, a nostalgic look back at love which builds momentum over four minutes rather than resorting to an obvious verse-chorus. It's the definite grower in the pack.
For 30 years I've been a fan of Madness' wistfulness and melancholia, which was always more effective for often being set to uplifting music - happy melodies, sad undertones. For me, their creative peak was between Rise and Fall and Mad Not Mad, with the criminally underrated Keep Moving a beautiful but understated record.
The band's first three albums had some of the best singles, but were far more patchy - although Absolutely was a gem that just needed a couple of weaker moments trimming. Though they are no longer as fresh and `important' as in those wide-eyed days, TLONF is far better than we had a right to expect at this stage of their careers.
on 20 May 2009
This is my very first Madness album and what a place to start! I received the CD this morning and I've already listened to it four times. It is truly a work of brilliance. There is no point in highlighting individual tracks as I believe the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, even though some of those parts are magnificent in their own right.
As a Kinks fan I do think that this is the album Ray Davies should have written. A Village Green Preservation Society for London in the 21st. century no less.
Keenly observed lyrics with sweeping harmonies stamped on an instrumental background that reflects the capital in the modern day.
'Magnum Opus' is an over used phrase but not in this instance. A CD that will become a treasured asset to my collection.
Album of the year? Yes certainly. Album of the decade thus far? Quite possibly!
on 21 March 2009
Most bands produce their best work on their first couple of albums, when they are young, creative, full of energy and youthfull exuberance. For thirty years. Madness, for those that truely listened, bucked that trend, although One Step Beyond, Absolutley and the associated singles could suggest otherwise. The Rise and Fall, suggested what they could offer in years to come, but in the main, like many other bands with an eye on longevity, they created good, worthy and mature pieces of work, but inevitably lost that spark. Live, Madness always produced the goods, childish, witty and energetic, appealing to a wide audience. I saw them last December at the O2 with my girlfriend,(who was more used to seeing Take That and Kylie)and she remarked that it was like a Friday night down the Dog And Duck. She was absolutely right. Looking around, it wasn't an arena filled with thirty-something Mums with their daughters and no-one else. It wasn't filled with said mother and daughters with lots of well-groomed men in tight t-shirts thrown in to the mix either. It was Friday night, pub night. There was old and young, Pearly Kings and Queens, men in suits and bowlers, students, emos', ladies that lunch (my girlfriend) old skinheads and a couple of German tourists standing behind us. This is the appeal of Madness, a broad-reaching, every-man style that no other band has. "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" encapsulates everything that Madness profess to be.
Listening to this album, you can almost pick out the 30 years of infuences. Ian Dury, The Kinks, The Specials, but it would be unfair to listen to this and attribute the sound to other bands. This is Madness, pure and simple and their greatest influence is themselves.
The album plays like a West End musical, perhaps the Our House theatrical run influenced the arrangment(?). As a whole, it is a brilliant piece of musical story-telling, like Lional Bart in his heyday. "We Are London" sets the scene and we are then taken on a tour of London and the people in it, all with a tale to tell. From the lamentation of advancing years and mistakes made (Forever Young), to the party-loving woman who refuses to grow old gracefully (Dust Devil). Teenage love (Sugar and Spice), troublesome boys (Idiot Child)and the heart-rending "On The Town". All the lyrics here are clever and astute without being pretentious and worth taking the time examine. "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" is the obvious jewel in the crown. It is, bold and brilliant and at ten minutes plus is the track to first hold your attention. It is their "Bohemien Rapshosdy" except it makes a lot more sense. Even what I considered the weaker songs "So Close" and "MKII", over time reveal themselves to be wonderful observations on long-standing friendship and the end of friendship/relationship respectivley. Now, I concede, that there isn't a weak song here.
As I said at the begining of this (cadgeing) ramble, most bands reach their pinnacle in the first two albums. Not here. This is the best thing they've done. This is the best thing anyone has done for many years. After thirty years Madness still have the quality, skill, insight and humanity to produce a work of genius. As Chris Forman said in an interview, "I tell you what, this is a good album". Mr Forman, you are so right.
on 19 May 2009
I was 12 when I first saw Madness on Top of the Pops back in 1979 and from that first moment, I loved them. They were a massive part of my early teens and dancing along to Baggy Trousers, Night Boat to Cairo and the like are fond, fond memories of those years.
Truth be told, I hadn't given them much thought though over recent years but then I heard about this album coming out; about its theme and about how it was going to be fantasic. They played a couple of tracks on the Jools Holland show and my interest was heightened.
So for the first time in 25 years probably, I bought a Madness record on the day it came out. That was 24 hours ago and I have now played it god knows how many times.
Buy this Album folks - it's smart, sophisticated but still quintessentially the same Madness of old, just all grown up. It is a long time since I bought an album that I liked so much and that I couldn't stop playing.
So Highly recommended then....
... see you all in the Water Poet..............
I don't think anybody expected an album of this quality and sheer excellence from Madness at this stage in their career. Indeed, given the time passed since their last album of original material (the excellent "Wonderful" in 1999), I doubt if many fans were expecting an album at all - but "The Liberty Of Norton Folgate" is arguably the best, most complete, studio album the Nutty Boys have ever made. Quite impressive for a band who could easily spend their days touring the old hits and still be in major demand. Instead, they have made an contemporary great, a melodic opus, full of romantic (and yet realistic) imagery of love, relationships, friendship, childhood and life in London.
When I heard this album for the first couple of times, I picked out a couple of what I thought were weaker tracks, but that was an error. There are tracks which are instantly lovable and tracks which are less instant - but they're all excellent, from start to finish, a charismatic, toe-tapping serving of collective genius. It would be difficult to choose my favourite tracks, but I have to confess to a special place in my heart for "Bingo", a song which captures a snapshot of life in the capital perfectly. Other personal highlights include the story of blossoming love, "Sugar and Spice", the brilliant "Idiot Child", which is about how, as a kid, you're treated as if you're perpetually stupid and, just for something a little different, "Clerkenwell Polka", a song about protecting your rights, financial slavery and the drudgery of life. The climax to the album, the title track, is a ten minute slice of lyrical and musical excellence as well, being the story of Norton Folgate, an area of London which, up until 1900 was independent of the city - but it's all brilliant. I could just as easily enthuse about "Dust Devil", "NW5", "Forever Young" and a few others I genuinely love.
I was lucky enough to see Madness live this month (December 2009) and they were magical. More importantly, the songs they played from "Norton Folgate" easily stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their earlier, more famous songs which, given the popularity and special place in my heart some of Madness' classics have, was a true indication of just how superb this album really is. The special edition of this album contains a DVD performance of the album recorded in Hackney earlier this year, when the tracks were being given their debut - and it's a truly excellent performance, almost tied together with a Suggs & Chas' narration like a musical. Well worth the extra few quid.
To surmise, "The Liberty Of Norton Folgate" is thoroughly enjoyable and unequivocally excellent. If you haven't already got this album, what are you waiting for?
on 18 March 2009
I have been lucky enough to hear the whole of this album on download and I would recommend anyone who ever liked Madness at all to buy this CD the second it hits the shops! In my humble opinion this is the greatest album the band have ever made and is far better than I would have expected or hoped. Madness albums have tended on the whole to be a bit inconsistent with the odd few fller tracks (even my favourites 'One Step Beyond', 'Absolutely' and 'The Rise and Fall' have their weaker tracks) but 'Norton Folgate' is solid from start to finish, showcasing some fantastic songwriting from different band members. The balance between ska, pop and bittersweet melodies is perfect. Overall, I would say the sound is closest to 'The Rise and Fall' but with a modern production and more ska/reggae influence. I was surprised to see that the great recent single 'NW5' was omitted from the album, but perhaps it wasn't considered good enough! It's hard to pick a standout track but I especially enjoyed 'We are London', 'Forever Youg', 'Rainbows' and 'Idiot Child' as all sounded like potential singles. Sadly this album will probably never get the reception and success it deserves but at least there are still plenty people out there that will appreciate it. It is great to hear a band that is not just living on past glories after 30 years but can still produce something this bloody good!
on 7 May 2009
As a Madness fan since 1979 I have everything they've ever released and some stuff they haven't, officially! This album is in my opinion (at least in box-set 2CD form) the best work they have ever done. Simply brilliant from start to finish.
Rich and varied musical themes but still clearly Madness all the way through. Wonderful depth and breadth of lyrical imagination with all shades from brilliant light to dark, dark shadow. Funny, scary, clever; almost magical in places.
The links to London and its social history are clearly of huge interest and significance to the band's members, and their connection to their city is obvious. But you don't even have to know or even particularly like London (or even come from there, as I don't) to love this work.
I know many consider Madness to be at best a pop band, at worst the cheeky-chappie novelty nutty boys of Baggy Trousers fame. If you take the time to seriously listen to TLONF you will realise how utterly wrong that opinion is.
This may sound daft - but I don't care...this album is a masterpiece, 30 years in the making. If you can, buy (or borrow - but not mine, sorry!) the box-set.
on 2 June 2009
I'd like to use some observations about the previous reviews listed here to help make my point that this is a really excellent album.
Take a look at the amount of stand out tracks highlighted by previous reviewers: it's not the same one or two titles mentioned over and over again, a vast array of potential `top spot' pretenders are offered up. I can understand why. At the time of writing, on the basis that I'm being forced to name one, I'll go for "That Close".
I have found it 'one of those' albums that I'm happy to play all the way through, and then start over again, your own mood cementing your favourite for that particular play.
A lot of the said reviews are from, admittedly, long term Madness fans and, as I am not, I was worried that some of the ratings could be somewhat `blinkered' - upon my first listen I new that this was not the case.
I concur with the person that commented that the album played a bit like a musical. I certainly got this `feel' too - maybe the production? - and with some tracks seemingly looking back nostalgically and others looking forward optimistically (sometimes both within the same track). There is a definite sense of a story being told. Absorb it and enjoy it.