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Paul Rodgers "Pledge" (Gillingham, Kent)

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Madstock [CD + DVD]
Madstock [CD + DVD]
Price: £9.99

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An earthquake was erupting..., 9 Oct. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Madstock [CD + DVD] (Audio CD)
This reissue of the original Madstock! CD is long overdue. The addition of the DVD will be a decent bonus for many, as the concert has only previously been available on DVD as part of the ‘Guided Tour Of Madness’ box set, which is far from being one of Madness’ big selling compilations. The original Madstock! album was issued in 1992 on Go! Discs. It peaked at number 22 and stayed on the top 75 UK album chart for 9 weeks. Go! Discs was taken over by Polygram in 1996 and the label ceased to exist soon after. It is safe to conclude that it is over 15 years since the album was available as new as opposed to second hand. It’s also safe to assume that there is a new generation of Madness fans who were not born when the concert was recorded in August 1992... I will also add that the original album was not awarded a silver disc. It is safe to assume that its total UK sales were under 60,000. One of the other Madstock! concerts has appeared on DVD and sold 25,000 plus copies, which suggests there is sufficient demand to justify a live DVD of this, the original Madstock!

Forgive me taking a brief step back in time... As you’ll find in the excellent sleeve notes that accompany this release, Madness had not performed live in public in Britain for 6 years when they reconvened for two concerts at Finsbury Park in August 1992. Prior to the reissue campaign that Virgin had set in motion earlier that year with the number one album Divine Madness and the top 10 reissued single It Must Be Love, Madness’ fortunes had been a series of ever decreasing- circles. The quality was still there, but the ticket and record sales certainly were not. I had spent 1991 and early 1992 following Lee and Chris’ band The Nutty Boys up and down the country and was getting a sense that there was still an affection and a growing demand for Madness. In some towns this was encouraged by unscrupulous concert promoters trying to suggest they had booked Madness (or at least more than two members of Madness) to perform at venues on posters. Lee and Chris always played this down. Madness songs were few and far between at their gigs and they could hardly be accused of cashing in on this demand by playing Fireball XL-5, Take It Or Leave It and Razor Blade Alley amongst 20 or so original Nutty Boys compositions. So yeah, where was I? Ah yeah, 1992. August 8 1992 to be precise. I don’t think anything will ever replicate the feeling I got when after all the waiting the Magnificent Seven stood on stage lapping up the applause, love, whistles, chants and cheers that their mere emergence on stage had generated. And yet, here I am twenty three years later and it happened again when I reached that point on the DVD. These days I have more hairs on my neck than on my head and they stood on end proud enough that I might had been able to use them for a dodgy comb-over were I that way inclined.

They say nostalgia ain’t what it used to be and it’s the same with Madness. Let me explain. For those who have only seen them live this millennium there is the sheer thrill on this CD and DVD set of hearing Madness and Madness alone on stage. Sure there’s a few samples on Wings Of A Dove (the version on the DVD is still one of my favourite memories of seeing Madness all these years on) and Clive Langer mysteriously added some female backing vocals on The Harder They Come (keep up youngsters, yes Madness played The Harder They Come on stage, it was even released as a live single) but essentially this album and DVD is about the seven members of Madness playing live on stage in front of 36,000 of their fans (by far their biggest ever headline shows) each night.

What’s more it was a glorious greatest hits set. Properly the greatest hits. All of their top ten singles bar The Return Of The Los Palmas 7 were played and Cardiac Arrest was the only other single missing from the classic run from The Prince through to The Sun And The Rain. In truth the band did nothing the band recorded after Mike had originally left and album tracks were drawn from One Step Beyond... and Absolutely only, but the shows and these recordings are about what was included, not what was missed out. This is truer now of this release than it was in 1992. Back then you would have needed to buy the blue CD single of The Harder They Come to get the audio of Land Of Hope And Glory, Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day) and Take It Or Leave It. Now they are bonus tracks on the CD along with audio of Razor Blade Alley, which was previously only available if you bought the video or the aforementioned release with the DVD. And let’s face it who still has a VHS player? Ok then, who still has a VHS player that doesn’t threaten to chew up their favourite videos?
This release it long overdue and I love it.

That said there are a couple of niggles: the sleeve notes are well written and informative and they remind us of the story of how Chas got the band back together to perform live on a pilot of a TV show that Go! Discs were making in their new guise as Go! Tv. It’s a shame that performance is not available here as an extra. That said I have no idea if it still exists, let alone whether it could have been licensed; The Top Of The Pops performance of The Harder They Come from outside the Kremlin in Moscow would also have made a nice extra; Some parts of the DVD have poor picture quality. As far as I can work out this is a fault that one of the cameras generated. Like anything originally recorded on video it doesn’t seem like there’s anything that can be done about it. It mainly affects the pre-concert short documentary piece and doesn’t ruin the concert. I only mention it here so that people don’t think they have a faulty copy. I wish we lived in a world where this was the sort of thing that people should care deeply about, but we don’t. Perspective is everything here.


A Dog Called Dez. The True Story of How One Amazing Dog Changed His Owner's Life
A Dog Called Dez. The True Story of How One Amazing Dog Changed His Owner's Life
by Veronica Clark
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite simply the best book I've read this year, 1 Nov. 2013
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Before starting my review I must confess I know John Tovey and Dez. I'm mentioned in the book, but not by name, as the Madness fan who went to the Madness weekend at Minehead with him and Dez last year and emailed the band's guitarist asking if they could meet the band. That said I had to buy my own copy of the book a couple of weeks back...

I hadn't known John for long when we went to Butlin's but he told me some of the story of his life and I could see the clear parallels between John's teenage life and that of Madness saxophone player and lyricist Lee Thompson. Knowing that Thompson's life had influenced his lyrical style and subject matter I was sure there would be a story worth telling by Tovey. I couldn't have been more right.

When my copy of the book arrived I was like many other reviewers in that I couldn't put the book down. I'm not one to read for long periods, but I got to around 80 pages in before realising I had to take a loo break. The story is one that is that good. The ghost writer helpfully puts John's introduction to Dez at the start of the book as it places the reader at a recent point in John's life and establishes him as a likable and modest bloke. In doing so it reduces the chance of the chapters that follow being read like certain true crime biographies that are disparagingly (and often accurately) nicknamed 'hoolie-porn'.

I'm almost the same age as John Tovey (he is roughly 3 weeks older than me) and am also a lifelong fan of Madness, who has gravitated to Lee Thompson's songs. I was looking for a read that I would understand and relate to as I've spent 34 years of my life with Madness' music its soundtrack. However it quickly becomes clear that John's life was much much harder than mine. As I read on the one conclusion I couldn't escape returning to was that other than the adolescent years there is no chance that the sighted John Tovey would have been a mate of mine. As his story develops it is clear that he was too hot to handle.

There's no glorification of John's early life here. There are glimpses of revenge that on one level seem morally right especially his father's reaction to the abuse of John in one of the homes he was sent to and the way the workplace bully was dealt with. But we see that revenge never paid off for John. There was no prolonged fresh start. John's self-destructive path was always leading him like a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I cannot imagine what it is like to go blind in adulthood. I imagine it is a lot worse than being born blind, but I cannot know. But this book paints a sudden and stark picture of what it was like when it happened to John. It is probably harder to imagine that sudden adult blindness could actually be the second best thing that ever happened to John Tovey. The book may not say it in so many words, but it is reasonably clear that John's health issues, lifestyle and risk taking could have left John dead by now.

The chapters that follow detailing John's rehabilitation, which was by no means immediate, the effort that goes into training Guide Dogs and the people who end up paired with them are heartwarming and life-affirming. And then there's the real star of the book, Dez. I can assure readers that John is spot on with his description of Dez as a hard working Guide Dog and a wonderful, cheeky, companion. I am fairly sure he knows who can see and who can't. The night before we went to Butlin's I stayed with John and Dez to break my journey. I didn't get up as early as they did and Dez was impatient to get out. Had I not told John he would never have known that Dez had picked up my shoes and taken them carefully from the bedroom to the lounge and then walked up to me several times with my trainer in his mouth. He was very clearly telling me to get on with it! Once in Minehead I was staggered when, after a brief walk from our chalet to the restaurant and then back to the chalet and on to the music venue, John told me they were going for a walk around the massive holiday park and I was only to call his mobile if they weren't back after 45 minutes!

Sure enough Dez was able to guide John around without mishap, despite the weather being appalling with rain soon turning the park into one big puddle.

This book covers a full range of emotions and it will take the reader on a roller coaster ride (I don't think that has yet become as much of a cliche as the 'journey' we're all told we're meant to be on) that hasn't yet finished. We live in an age when 16 year old singers on the X Factor can tell the judges they've waited all their life for this audition and then be on their second autobiography at age 23. We also live in an age where John Tovey and Dez have a story to be told with the help of 'ghost writer' Veronica Clark. The world is a much better place because of stories like theirs and it follows that it is also a better place because of this book.

Before I finish I must also add that Madness fans will have fun spotting lyrics and song titles (often from obscure B sides) hidden in the text. But be assured they are not crow-barred in. I would also like to add that, having put a rough chronology to the events described in the book, I would say that at no point did John mimic the songs. He appears to have already been in an 'approved school' before hearing One Step Beyond...'s track Land Of Hope And Glory and Absolutely's Overdone). He didn't sniff glue after hearing Suggs sing about it on Keep Moving's Time For Tea and The Liberty of Norton Folgate's Idiot Child was released over 25 years after his own 'abduction' by social workers and first minibus ride to the world of borstals. These songs in particular will give readers not familiar with Madness' career beyond their greatest hits an insight into why John raves about Madness so much. Suggs also has a biography out That Close (they were published within weeks of each other. I would firmly recommend John's book as a companion piece...

To quote their old record label, Stiff Records: BUY IT.


Take It Or Leave It [CD + DVD]
Take It Or Leave It [CD + DVD]
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £12.49

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The business with words, 8 Oct. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The concept is so simple it's a wonder no-one thought of it before when raiding Madness' back catalogue for compilation ideas: take their film Take It Or Leave It, which largely relies on music from their first three albums and associated singles and release the soundtrack from it. And restore the film and add it as a bonus disc.

The film, which was a biopic of the rise and rise of Madness, inhabits a strange old world but one which is very pleasing to the ears of fans of early Madness. The concept is simple: when the band is rehearsing and playing live early on (before they've even adopted the name Madness) the songs are largely cover versions. Like so many garage (or in this case bedroom) bands they learn to play by attempting with various degrees of failure to play along with records they liked. It's important to note that at this stage the band was four mates: Mike Barson on piano (the only one who could actually play), Chris Foreman on guitar, Lee Thompson on (stolen property) saxophone and John Hasler on drums.

So after an opening blast of Don't Quote Me On That (as if to point out the some events in the film have been fictionalised to protect the innocent or for entertainment purposes) and The Business (the instrumental B side of Baggy Trousers that resurfaced as the brilliant Take It Or Leave It on second album Absolutely) the gear then shifts to the more pedestrian I'm Walkin' by Fats Domino, which is the first song we see the band murder in rehearsal. We also see Lee walk out for the first of many occasions fed up with Barson's pushiness.

Next up is On The Beat Pete, which is presented as a classic Madness video that never was within the film as Barson and a mate attract the attention of the boys in blue by having an impromptu light sabre fight on a tube station platform. The story then moves on to mate Si Birdsall's house where the newly named `Invaders' are playing their first gig. Suggs is now present, albeit in the audience as a less than impressive Dikron gurns his way through a desultory performance of Jailhouse Rock like James Moir singing for the panellists on Shooting Stars. Thankfully Jailhouse Rock is not included on the album. Meanwhile upstairs at the party Cathal (Carl/Chas Smash) Smyth is chatting up Barson's girlfriend as we hear `Don't Look Back' played at the disco. This was a little odd at the time as it would not appear as the b side to House Of Fun until after the film had been out on release. It is joined on this soundtrack CD by The Four Tops' Reach Out I'll Be There which plays as Suggs mooches around upstairs having the obligatory nose around his host's record collection. This is the last non-Madness tune to appear on the soundtrack.

This is a bone of contention with many fans as the soundtrack album is made up of the songs in roughly the order they first appear in the film and as recorded and released by Madness. The problem is that in some pivotal scenes Madness are playing either the first songs they ever wrote (see `Mistakes' written by the original Bed And Breakfast Man John Hasler and Mike Barson) or unreleased gems (the cover of `See You Later Alligator' which Suggs allegedly sang at his audition, `Rough Kids' the Kilburn And The High Roads song they were covering when Lee attacked drummer Garry Dovey, forcing him to quit and paving the way for Daniel Woody Woodgate to join and `Sunshine Voice' another early attempt at songwriting that they were working on when Woody auditioned). All of these songs can be bought in one form or another by other artists and heard in full, with the exception of `Sunshine Voice' which remains a snippet of an idea. Surely the band recorded a longer version than that captured for the final version of the film?

That is the only downside to this compilation. The rest is all positive as we're treated to a broadside of the studio versions of tracks we largely see the band perform live in the film during various recreations of early heady gigs in small sweaty rooms in seemingly smaller pubs. I say largely because a few are included when used over montages (every film since Rocky has had to have a montage by law) which like On The Beat Pete tend to act like mini Madness videos within the film. So why have a long discussion about how the name Madness was adopted for the band when the band and mates can be seen arsing about on the tube as the tune plays? Let's face it who hasn't done the `excuse me' dance on the tube with mates when on the way to a Madness gig in London? Lee and Suggs can be seen doing various odd jobs very badly as Odd Job Man/That's The Way To Do It and Rockin' In Aᵇ play.

Generally as the film progresses so the soundtrack heads towards more well known Madness songs as we're treated to nine songs from One Step Beyond... to illustrate the band's rapidly developing setlist. The sort of setlist that often makes debut albums so quick and easy to record, and used to make bands sound so fresh and live on the resulting vinyl or cassette. We're also gifted another Hasler gem as Stepping Into Line (which he co-wrote with Suggs and Chrissy Boy, presumably whilst sofa surfing round what they might call their gaffs, is lifted from the b side of third single My Girl.

It's clear to see that these early gigs must have been an absolute joy for the punters lucky enough to attend them (being a lightweight youngster I would have to wait until the Seven Tour in November 1981 to see them live). It also makes me yearn for Madness to play a few single album or b sides and rarities gigs. In fact I think it is a bleeding liberty that they've only really done a whole album gig for their most recent studio album, something I hope they will rectify at some time in the near future. But I digress.

Take It Or Leave It the soundtrack album works really well for me. With the exception of those omissions I've mentioned above there's no moaning about what's included, what's not included and why. Dave Robinson (and others?) picked a soundtrack to fit the film all those years ago (it was released in 1981 and it still works to this day. As a 26 (or 29 with encores) song gig it would satisfy a whole raft of Madness fans.

As for the film, well it is sheer genius. It's sort of a documentary, sort of a comedy, sort of a video, sort of a live video as it tells the story of how bands start and how they end up on Top Of The Pops and Radio One. Imagine X Factor. Imagine the long drawn out process of auditions and then having to sing weekly on telly as you strive to make it in the pop business. Imagine the heartaches, the amusing bits and the arguments on the road to making it to the final line up. Then forget that totally. Take It Or Leave It shows the other way: Bored mates form a band despite only one knowing how to play an instrument. Other mates come and go, introducing their mates as they do so the core of the band meets other musicians through the six degrees of separation model. The mates become fans or managers or try another instrument until that magical moment when they get that £1m recording contract. Sorry I mean until that magical moment when someone who really believes in them borrows a couple of hundred quid off a publisher so he can take them into a studio and get them recorded.

A lot has been said about the gritty realism in this film. I've been lucky enough to meet almost all of the major players (albeit not until a minimum of about nine years after the film was made). The band do indeed portray themselves realistically. I think they also get across the fact that Madness is bigger and better than the sum of its parts. I doubt any of them would have gone on to have musical success if it were not for Madness. I doubt any of them would have dreamed of it. So thankfully there are no contrived lines about waiting all their lives to get here. I guess that's the beauty of largely improvised film making. What makes it all the better is that band members and their mates all played themselves. Many locations used were the actual locations where the incidents being portrayed had taken place. At the time of filming Madness were exceedingly successful and famous in Britain. They'd had two platinum number two albums and had released 6 top 10 singles, but could still remember what it was like to play in pubs to 200 people.

Sit back, watch and listen. It'll be a hell of a lot more fun than reading a biography of the band and it might also show the kids that the X Factor is not the only road to success. All they then have to do is decide whether to take it or leave it...
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 24, 2013 9:55 PM GMT


Never Knew Your Name
Never Knew Your Name

4.0 out of 5 stars A chanson about a chance encounter, 15 Jan. 2013
Here's a song theme that is seemingly never far from writers' minds as it's something we've all encountered: unrequited love, or as The Divine Comedy called it 'Commuter Love'. So what's Madness' take on it? A slightly sleazy piano/vocal/smoky sax intro gives way to a song built around disco guitar and strings. Many have said this follows the chord structure of Madness' early hit Embarrassment, but for me it is more I Spy by Pulp, which is fine by me as I love that song and band. Never Knew Your Name doesn't follow the more sinister path of I Spy, but it does conjure up the cinematic image of our man's attempts to pull at the end of his night out. The lyrics are slightly clunky at the end, but it's a fine song and Suggs has matured into the kind of vocalist who can carry off the singing to the barman style this song evokes.

The song has a marvellous singalong chorus, whilst Mr Barson's shrill piano notes at the top of the verses perfectly fit with the string arrangement. You'll also find a marvellous rasping sax break that will remind lapsed listeners why they fell in love with Madness in the first place. Listen out for the sax at 1.30, 2.30 and 2.45 onwards. Gorgeous!

A fine addition to their hit singles cannon.


Total Madness
Total Madness
Offered by A2Z Entertains
Price: £5.64

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Madness of Queen Liz?, 13 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Total Madness (Audio CD)
Right the first thing that needs saying is that this is a reissue of Madness' 2009 compilation. Back then it was a CD and DVD package, which contained nearly all the hits, a B side and an album track as well as nearly all the original hit videos from the 80s as well as those for Lovestruck and NW5 the introductory hits from comeback studio albums Wonderful and The Liberty Of Norton Folgate respectively.

Fast forward three years and Madness are, if anything, having a more successful year than 2009 had been. As well as recording a new, as yet unreleased, album (the first fruits of which `Death Of A Rude Boy' have appeared online this very weekend) they've had time for crowd pleasing festival performances, a jaunt to America, a one man autobiographical show from Suggs, their biggest ever arena tour starts in November immediately after their second annual House Of Fun weekender at Butlins and ends with two nights at the o2 Arena and they've performed for The Queen on top of Buckingham Palace for the Diamond Jubilee and for the World from the back of a flat bed truck in the Olympic Stadium to close the London Olympics 2012.

You'll forgive then, their record company putting out this revised version of their best of CD. Whole new generations of fans are out there for this to be bought by and for. No-one should quibble that this collection simply gives them a Photoshopped version of the original cover (the bus didn't originally have a union jack livery and it wasn't driven by Queen Victoria the last time I looked) a new catalogue number and running order and removes the disc of videos. That is because this album is only for newer or returning fans, some of the reputed many billions who will have seen Madness on the telly this year. No-one who had 2009's version needs this one.

The tracklist is exactly the same as the 2009 version, with the exception of It Must Be Love and Our House (the tracks performed to the largest audiences this year) being moved up front to grab the attention early doors.
Total Madness does not have a chronological track list, being paced to some extent to match their live set. The introductory two songs are followed by a massively uptempo string of hits with One Step Beyond..., Baggy Trousers, House Of Fun, Embarrassment and My Girl following in swift fashion. That staggering opening seven hits, which plenty of bands would kill to have in their cannon, are chased by the sheer ebullience of the frenetic Wings Of A Dove followed by the sombre singalong of The Sun And The Rain (the only instance of successive tracks mirroring their original release order), before the pace lets up slightly with Grey Day. Thematically these two songs very much belong together. Next up is NW5, from the last album. Not Madness's biggest hit single, but certainly one of the best melodies Mike Barson has written and a big live favourite since its 2006 debut. In this company it proves itself more than equal to Madness's wonderful original run of hits.

Mid (original) career Madness rears its successful head with the trio of Cardiac Arrest, Tomorrow's Just Another Day and Driving In My Car. Believe it or not we reach track 12 before finding a track that hasn't been a staple of Madness' live shows. With a new album to be promoted to the masses it would seem that Cardiac Arrest will not get its live reappraisal for some time yet... Bed And Breakfast Man was never a single, but judging by its popularity live it probably should have been. Its inclusion in this set is no surprise. Neither is 1999's comeback hit Lovestruck, which was Madness's first top 10 single since 1983's The Sun And The Rain. Lovestruck was an instant classic and fits perfectly with the next two tracks, the gorgeous One Better Day (Madness's best ever single in my humble opinion) and Michael Caine. Both came from Keep Moving, a brilliant, but transitional album made under the shadow of fear cast by the knowledge that founder member Mike Barson was leaving the band. It was a brilliant send off and was my favourite original Madness album, when released in the Olympic year of 1984... Wonder what made me think of that?

The catchy cha cha cha of The Return Of The Los Palmas 7 sets us up perfectly for the encores, sorry, last 4 tracks. We storm through The Prince, Shut Up, Madness and then Night Boat To Cairo brings the album and show to a glorious end. We want more and that's a good thing with a new album to come later in 2012.

This is a cracking compilation album and Madness are a cracking band. Do yourself a favour, if you're new to this band as a result of the jubilympics buy this, buy yourself some of their back catalogue and keep your eyes and ears open for the release of their brand new album.

This best of is but the tip of one incredibly big iceberg...


Forever Young - The Ska Collection
Forever Young - The Ska Collection
Price: £6.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One Step Beyond...?, 8 April 2012
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Forever Young The Ska Collection

Or the compilation that went one step beyond being absolutely Mad Not Mad. But hey, baby needs shoes and the record company has to keep moving. And so the madness continues...

The result is that for only the second time in their long career a Madness compilation is themed. Last time it was the songs used in the Our House musical. This time it's their ska songs. Or to be more precise it's songs which contain even the smallest trace of nuts sorry I mean ska. At a time when small fortunes are being made with compilation titles such as Ska Madness it makes sense for Madness to stick out an album of their more ska songs.

This then is an album which brings together seven of their hit singles (all from their 1979-1983 chart peak years) and a whole host of album and/or b side tracks. This is supplemented by two of the singles from latest hit album The Liberty Of Norton Folgate, which had no chance of being hits in this modern era of massive single sales.

Probably of most interest to the casual punter who might have seen Madness live is Tarzan's Nuts which is now roughly 3 years into a live revival. For the more dogged Madness fan there are two previously unheard songs from their Dangermen Sessions sessions. Jimmy Cliff's Vietnam is pointlessly covered. Whether is it used a metaphor for more recent wars the fact is that governments do not care and do not listen. More lives will be wasted in pursuit of nothing much at all. Personally I'd have represented The Rise And Fall album by including Blue Skinned Beast here if a war song was needed. Interestingly the lyrics to Vietnam may have indirectly influenced a couple of Madness songs in Overdone and Mrs Hutchinson both of which recount tales of a breakdown in communication when some form of institution is involved. Vietnam is the army, Overdone is prison or borstal and Mrs Hutchinson is hospitals.

On a much more positive note, the other previously unreleased song, In The Hall Of The Mountain King is covered with increasing gusto as this compilation's closing track. Possibly dropped from The Dangermen Sessions when Pigbag was chosen as an encore closing show stopper, Mountain King is (ironically a mouthfulof a title) a catchy instrumental. Ska fans may or may not agree that it somewhat inspired the Dub Pistols and Terry Hall on their year 2000 hit Problem Is. I detect a pleasing similarity. The intro is also reminiscent of the eastern jam Mike Barson plays as the live prelude to Night Boat To Cairo.

There's also some half decent sleeve notes in packaging that folds out to make a poster. Ideal for your average Madness fan in his late 40s, wishing he were forever young in waist-size and knee-bounciness as well as in the mind!

Anyone buying this album as a purist ska fan may be slightly disappointed. They will be getting a good collection of songs, but they won't be strictly ska. Some are full on ska covers and Madness originals. Some are much closer to reggae. On the bulk you will find Madness producing their brilliant blend of pop with an element of ska either played by one or more members or hinted at in the lyrical tics and shouts that became a Madness trademark from day one. As such there's something going on on the off beat somewhere in all of these songs, regardless of how far removed the song seems from traditional ska. Most often it'll be Chrissy Boy's guitar or one of Mike's multi-layered keyboard parts. Failing that Lee will be parping out a rhythmic part on his sax as opposed to one of his more melodic blows.

Fans of Madness' hit singles would probably be wise to look elsewhere. I'm one of those completist fans, the type that wants to own everything the band releases, but I find this album difficult to listen to in one go. An actor friend of mine likes to paraphrase Andy Partridge (ex of XTC) as saying that Madness were the prog-ska band of the 2Tone revival era. Partridge may have been correct in that Madness did far more with their sound than just play straight up and down ska, but when you bundle all of these songs together they leave me wanting something else. Perhaps that's the idea? This is brilliant appetiser to dip into, but I'd advise most potential buyers to buy this AND one of Madness' studio album so you can enjoy a main course rather than stuffing yourself on starters, no matter how good they are. In that respect this album is perhaps Too Much Forever Young?

Probably not coming soon: It Must Be Love-The Love Collection, hotly followed by Driving In My Car-The Road Collection and Our House Of Fun The Dwellings Collection.

Coming as soon as they can finish it will be a new studio album, which will yet again prove they are not content to sit on their laurels churning out the old stuff. Here's hoping it's ready soon as you can't keep a good thing down.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 3, 2012 7:20 PM BST


Guided Tour of Madness
Guided Tour of Madness
Price: £29.99

50 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Three plus one adds up to one hell of a compilation!, 19 Sept. 2011
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This review is from: Guided Tour of Madness (Audio CD)
And so we reach the stage in Madness' career where the box set is considered the way forward in terms of working their back catalogue. This isn't their first box set, but it is the first to attempt to bridge the chasm from the perceived `singles band' of the 80s and the greatest hits playing `nostalgia act' seen live to the reality: a band which released classic single after classic single in the 80s, that more often than not had absolute gems on the B side, who built a reputation as a solid live band who could play and entertain and one which released a string of albums, which sold well if not massively. Crucially these albums were stuffed with subtly political and biographical tales of real life. Sometimes the spotlight would be turned inwards to reveal an honest and often melancholy insight into the real lives of the various band members.

This box set attempts over three discs and seventy tracks to illustrate this point. Whilst sticking broadly to a chronological route through their career this tour is not afraid of taking the odd diversion to show the listener a B side or EP track which came out after an album, before returning to the main route through the singles and album tracks. In fact running like Camden High Street and Chalk Farm Road do through Camden Town, almost all of Madness' singles are threaded through this set in order of their original release. Missing in action are Sweetest Girl and Sorry. The latter is no loss to this writer. Michael Caine is the first single not to appear in order, with One Better Day pushing in. Songs released as singles account for 32 of the stops along the way.

So what of the choices for the remaining 38 destinations? For this Green Bus Rider they make a pleasant journey. There's a few places I'd have liked to have gone, but the driver chose otherwise. Isn't it always the same when you're in the back of a taxi, certain you know the best route. Sit back, relax and the driver may well open your eyes and in this case your ears, so it's best to be looking out of the window.

With the exception of Mad Not Mad all of Madness' studio albums are afforded a minimum of two non-single slots. I have no qualms about this at all as it leaves space for All I Knew, B side of Yesterday's Men and in my opinion one of Madness' finest moments. This is a song which deserved far more than its non-album B side status. Perhaps fellow passengers will come to realise this too.

This tour, my friends, is like a holiday in Cornwall: you'll never get to cram everything worth seeing in to one holiday, but you'll come back savouring the memories of the places you did get to. Some you'll want to visit again and again on future holidays, but you'll also be wondering where else to go, what else there is to see. I can assure you of that as I've just returned. Sitting here listening to A Guided Tour Of Madness is like looking through my holiday snaps. Except instead of Kynance Cove I'm lost in the dream world of Primrose Hill, wishing I were there. And it has dawned on me that I really enjoyed my holiday and that this is one hell of a compilation of Madness songs!

Some of the details? Right I'm going to assume you're familiar with the original run of singles, 22 of which are present and correct. Later on you'll find another ten singles covering the period from 1999 to date during which Madness have made the transition from playing a purely nostalgic set live to a working, writing, recording and gigging band, whose new songs sit well in the set. A band whose 2009 album, The Liberty Of Norton Folgate, was their biggest hit (and selling) album of new material since 1981. It was also arguably their best album. So be prepared for an introduction to Lovestruck, Johnny The Horse and Drip Fed Fred from Wonderful, Shame And Scandal and Girl Why Don't You from their alias project The Dangermen Session and the four singles from the aforementioned Norton Folgate: NW5, Dust Devil, Forever Young and Sugar And Spice. Finally you arrive at Madness' newest single, Le Grand Pantalon, their reworking of Baggy Trousers made for a series of TV adverts. You'll either love or hate it. Me? I love it. Not only is it slowed down as per the brief for the series, it is also totally rearranged as a waltz, which builds from very little to a rousing singalong, fitting in perfectly with where Madness are in 2011.

So now I'll whip you back to 1979, where our journey began for a brief précis of the tracks you'll be less familiar with. Mistakes was apparently the first song Madness ever wrote. Its co author John Hasler was no longer a member of Madness by the time it was recorded as the B side of One Step Beyond... No matter. It sets the agenda strongly for themes Madness would explore for decades: introspection, honestly, regret and the wish to better one's self especially with regard to youthful mistakes. And so we move on through tracks from One Step Beyond... and Absolutely and the Work Rest And Play EP with the songs concentrating on petty crime, drinking, ageing and broken promises.

These are not boastful songs: In The Middle Of The Night explores character of a knicker nicker, Deceives The Eye portrays the young shoplifter caught, not only by the police but by his own thoughts: "what will me social worker say...". This is no longer a laugh. The young Chris Foreman is clearly scared of the consequences now his actions have caught up with him. On The Beat Pete sees Lee Thompson having a look from the beat bobby's perspective: he knows who all the young herberts are. You can't help but feel that Thommo knows this copper would like to help some of these characters get a leg up, if only he could. Strangely Thommo's songs about his own youthful incarceration are absent from this collection. Perhaps this is a good thing as it allows plenty of room for the other song-writers to get a look in? Besides Suggs is writing on that same subject on Not Home Today: the embarrassment and shame for parents as the gossip starts about kids not seen around town lately.

Pausing briefly at third album 7 we see Madness starting to broaden their lyrical horizons. Time spent on planes and tour buses on the ever longer tours had given the band time to read books and see different parts of the UK and the world. This would be obvious on Tomorrow's Dream (Thompson/Barson) and Sign Of The Times in which Suggs realises the cynicism and manipulation of the tabloid press. A song that's as apt in 2011 as it was in 1981.

Disc two takes us to the second phase of Madness' journey, starting with their only number one single so far (ha ha), before we go on a journey within this journey on Driving In My Car and the schizophrenic look at armed robbery that is Calling Cards from fourth album The Rise And Fall. Any sense of fun is brought into stark relief by Blue Skinned Beast, Lee Thompson's look at those who returned from The Falklands Conflict in body bags. Remember dear passenger, this is The Nutty Boys. Your kid brother's favourite band. The pop band on 2Tone, pandering to the kids whilst the more serious bands got on with the politics. Well I am that kid brother and I soon got a taste for the darkness in Madness' lyrics and revelled at their ability to make earworms, get radio airplay and hit records with songs that looked at familial racism, IRA informants, depression, unemployment and eventually murder.

This from a band who could also look at humdrum family life, youth, growing up, the freedom of getting your first old banger or chuck in a massive cover version, such as It Must Be Love. Their only failure to get away with this trick was with Cardiac Arrest. Cathal Smyth's look at stress induced illness was pulled by Radio One. Had it been called Seven Letters (its euphemistic working title) it would almost certainly have been as big a hit as their previous singles. Wearing one's heart on one's sleeve is one thing. Sticking the name of one of biggest killers on your sleeve is another!

By fifth album Keep Moving Cathal was wise to this, so his look at IRA informants was doubly disguised by being titled Michael Caine and by having said actor as a guest vocalist on the track. Other themes explored are homelessness (Victoria Gardens and One Better Day), immigration and racism (Prospects). The only album only track from Mad Not Mad, I'll Compete, sees Madness looking at a theme also explored in the title track of Keep Moving: Trying to keep up, the struggle to stand still, let alone progress. Two tracks that almost accidentally sum up the Thatcher years of the 80s.

Disc 3 starts with an oddly stranded Waiting For The Ghost Train, the farewell single when Madness split up 1986. Apartheid was the cheery subject for this last goodbye...

At this stage one should pop the DVD in the player. Yep, put disc 3 to one side for 90 minutes, fast forward to August 8 (and possibly 9) 1992 and ask the cabbie to drop you off at Finsbury Park where an earthquake is erupting. Available for the first time on DVD and long since deleted on VHS this is the original Madstock! A record of the weekend in 1992 when Madness defied the odds and years of indifference by performing a storming set to 72,000 fans over two heady days. Many tears were wiped from eyes just in time for Chas Smash to bellow "Hey You!". Those two words were all it took to get the crowd in the palm of his hand. This DVD gives a faithful representation of what it was like to be there when Madness came back to say goodbye.

The DVD appears to include no obvious extras or easter eggs, although one can select individual tracks. Whatever you do, don't use this feature for Wings Of A Dove. If you really do only want to watch Wings Of A Dove, do yourself a favour and select Close Escape instead. In time you will thank me for this little tip...

Ok so having lapped up Madstock! You can get back on your original route by popping disc 3 back in. This is inevitably the most patchy of the 3 discs as its songs span 25 years, whereas the first two span roughly 3 years each. Age, maturity, improved playing skills and quite simply time has changed them but they still sound resolutely like Madness. They are no longer wide eyed kids or slightly more mature adults looking at a depressed world. They are grown men, grandfathers in some cases.

In 1999, 7 years after reforming and after several false starts the first fruits of a new album were released in the form of the top 10 single Lovestruck. Deliciously written by Thompson and Barson it managed combine a joyous singalong chorus with a dark underbelly of the reality of drinking to excess: the effects on one's family and the chaos and violence that drunks can encounter on a night out. The song's staggering (literally) brilliance meant it fitted straight into the live cannon and it could have been on any of their earlier albums. The subsequent album Wonderful sounded just like Madness, except with Mike Barson back in the fold the melodies flowed more easily than they had without him on Mad Not Mad.

Further flights into the singles chart stalled outside the top 40 and the album was overlooked commercially. The seven songs from it on this box set act as a welcome taster.

The next material to see the light of day was part of Madness' excellent West End musical Our House. Two songs were written specifically for it, one of them included here as Sarah's Song was sung by the lead character Sarah at a pivotal point in the musical and was known as Back In Your Arms Again. This track is likely to be a new discovery for many fans buying this box set, as it was only previously available on the Our House compilation album released to coincide with the musical.

Madness then toyed with a back to their roots project, which included gigs at Camden's Dublin Castle, playing similar sets to those they had when starting out and songs that had inspired them. This was a fantastic live concept. In the studio it was problematic to say the least. That said the album had some commercial success in the UK and had a life of its own in France, where the lead single Shame And Scandal and the album itself charted for far longer than they did in the UK.

Now it is time to head away from Camden to the sprawling city around it. The first stirrings that something good was about to happen came with the song NW5. Madness were going even further back into their roots to look closely at London through their teenage eyes, as the adults they now were and from a reasonably reliable historical viewpoint. The Liberty Of Norton Folgate was the result. Six of its tracks are featured here and they are a sheer joy. Four of them are aforementioned singles, and two That Close and On The Town could have been/should have been. It's a brilliant album that has left Madness with one hell of a challenge if they are to ever try to better it.

Then there's the packaging and the extensive liner notes. Wonderful, simply wonderful. Yes they contain the obligatory factual errors on the credits pages (I'm sure these are always included to make sure knowledgeable fans are paying attention!), but these are far outweighed by the contributions from all seven members of the band, their producers, their soundman, the boss of Stiff Records and their photographer. Then there's the wayward seven ways of thinking about Madness by Paul Morley. It darts all over the place but is a good read. Maps, locations of video shoots and the real places behind the band and their songs, plus a facsimile of most of their first ever fan club magazine (so rare only 250,000 were ever printed so I'm told). All this presented like a railway station bookshop crime novel. A little novella, a crime story, some pulp fiction. Beware getting too trapped in this booklet and forgetting to listen to the music and watch the DVD (like I did when sent my review copy).

This, dear passenger, is, for now, the end of the journey. We've reached our destination. Last stop. The present. All change.

This box set proves that sometimes the journey is better than the destination, even those destinations that are never quite reached.

What does the future hold for Madness? For now it matters not whilst we can revel in this box set...
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 22, 2016 12:26 PM GMT


Le Grand Pantalon (Baggy Trousers)
Le Grand Pantalon (Baggy Trousers)
Price: £0.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a joyous return for the forever young, 6 Jun. 2011
Baggy Trousers re-worked as a waltz with all 7 original Madness members involved (welcome back, no matter how temporarily, Bedders!) and the welcome addition of Louis Vause (a long time collaborator with Lee and Chris in their Nutty Boys and Crunch! days). The teasers have been just that, a tease. The advert doesn't yet do justice to this recorded version, here in its full 4 and a half minutes of absolute joy, especially when the third chorus weaves the individual threads we've heard so far into a wonderfully grand (pair of) pantalon!

The song builds gradually, as any bar room sing along is likely to, giving a natural feel of more players and singers realising they know the tune and want to join the jam and have something to add. It ends up all at once a million miles from the 1980 Baggy Trousers but capturing the essence of everything that is great and loveable about Madness of the 2011 vintage.

Buy it!


Wonderful
Wonderful
Price: £9.99

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful return as Madness span the decades, 3 Sept. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Wonderful (Audio CD)
Having split after the release of Mad Not Mad (already without Mike Barson) Madness had been back together on and off since 1992's triumphant return to the live circuit with Madstock! following the top 10 success of the reissued single It Must Be Love and the number one compilation album Divine Madness. More reissued singles, the live album and video of Madstock! had been accompanied by a single release of The Harder They Come (effectively making a live EP across its various formats), but Madness had yet to release any new material of their own come 1998, despite 3 or 4 new songs being tried out live and fans knowing that there was material old and new on the back burner.

Finally it was time to record an album, but in doing so they knew that if they were to satisfy the live audience the songs would have to feel as if they fitted into an extensive back catalogue. In short Madness had to write some instant classics. Blow me, that's precisely what they went and done!

This was obvious from about the second listen to first single Lovestruck. Once that chorus is in the brain of a Madness fan it's as if it had been there since some time in 1982 or 1983. That's not to say the song sounded dated, it didn't, but it resonated as if it were an old favourite. A brand new favourite, perhaps? The public thought so too as the single became the first new Madness single since 1983 to reach the top 10.

A few low key and semi-secret gigs around Camden followed with promise that the album would deliver far more riches than just Lovestruck. The next single Johnny The Horse was another instant Madness classic, with its decidedly upbeat chorus and jaunty verses hiding the dark tale of Camden (and everywhere's) homeless eccentrics. Imagines the happy go lucky youth who starred in House Of Fun, Baggy Trousers or Our House going into decline. Alcoholism, homelessness and mental health problems are explored, along with the individual's family and friends care and concern for the unknown fate of the character. As the listener, we know his journey ended with him murdered on the streets for 'fun'. A life lost, but why should anyone care? Because it was a life. Simple as that. This song was based on a true story. Sadly it didn't quite click with the wider public. Perhaps it was released a little too long after Lovestruck to maintain the momentum, stalling at 44 a week before the album now known as 'wonderful' was released.

Wonderful was an album of great depth and variety, with 5 of the band members receiving at least one writing credit. The only surprise being that guitarist Chris Foreman took a back seat in the writing stakes, not being credited for any of the album's 9 original songs. The album included two cover versions: the Barson/McPherson penned 4.A.M. had first appeared on Suggs's debut solo album, but was greatly enhanced in the version presented here. The Langer/Winstanley production getting the absolute best out of Madness and the song itself, an exploration of the characters from The Kinks' Waterloo Sunset. The arrangement here owes a lot to Madness' earlier cover of It Must Be Love. It is simply gorgeous.

The other cover If I Didn't Care was a reworking of the old Inkspots classic, which had been revived by its inclusion on the soundtrack of cult movie The Shawshank Redemption. Being unfamiliar with the song or film at the time it appeared to be an inspired choice of oldie for this listener. The song is radically rearranged bringing Woody's drums and Bedders's ruder than you basslines right to the fore. There's also a sprinkling of 'Bond Theme' dust to give the song a moody filmic atmosphere.

The centrepiece of the album, however, was Drip Fed Fred, a Thompson/Barson composition about crime and corruption an absolute stomper of a song played out in several character parts. One of those parts was played out to absolute perfection by Sir Ian Dury RIP. The song seemed perfect for him and Lee Thompson had bumped into him purely by chance whilst on a writing trip to Holland, where Barson had been living for the best part of 15 or so years. A brilliant song, yes, but whether it was a good choice of third single is something the jury is still out on (if you'll pardon the pun). Ian Dury and Lee Thompson on lead vocals, which included references to knee capping and nonces was hardly the stuff of hit singles. However it goes down as a collaboration that was timed to perfection. Sir Ian Dury RIP passed away after battling cancer a few weeks after this single stalled at number 55.

The single had been paired as a double A side (something that seemed an odd idea in those CD driven times) with Elysium a stunning collaboration between Woody (not many tunes, but they are all brilliant-don't believe me go hunt them down!) and Thompson. The fantastic melody (which makes me think of the Casualty theme tune!) being topped by a call and (occasional) response vocal between Suggs and Thompson acting out the life and times of a bi-polar depressive's struggle with his own self-doubt and delusion. It's, quite simply, the absolute highlight of the album.

The Communicator is a nod to the band's roots in ska, which actually ends up sounding brilliantly like early Bad Manners, thanks to the piano and skank being mixed with a fuller brass sound than Madness were using in the 2Tone era. Had this been recorded during one of the many mini-ska revivals that happened between 1986 and 1994, Madness would have absolutely cleaned up. As it is Cathal gets to out preach James Brown, whilst Suggs quotes Alice Morse Earle- a quote still on display on the outside of the British Library in Somers Town trivia fans.

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning a delicious stormer penned by Suggs on the perils of reforming your band. Rather cheekily it has the distinct feel of Mud's 70's hit Tiger Feet. It's a glorious glamorous shuffle. To these ears it still sounds a lot like a hit single...

Mike Barson's solo penned Going To The Top is one of those glorious, if slightly maddeningly frustrating, list songs. This one barely pauses for breath, but then when one considers the lyric about unbridled ambition maybe that's the point? Imagine being at an old fashioned fairground riding a helter skelter, except this one spirals upwards. This song wouldn't have sounded at all out of place on Madness' third album 7. The pay off it the fantastic refrain "like a king upon his throne... don't you know it's love that pays" as the song suddenly tails off into a mix of sirens and alarms. The collapse has been complete and total...

Album closer No Money pairs Thompson with Woodgate and Woodgate as Woody's brother Nick pops up to help with the tunesmithery. It's a cautionary tale of living beyond one's means and outstaying one's welcome built around a sinking ship metaphor. As had by now become law, the track contains the signature Oliver's Army piano sound, otherwise unheard on the album. An arrangement that reaches its crescendo with Chrissy Boy really rocking out on the axe, with feedback disguised as Morse code distress signals underpinning the chorus adding to the sense of urgency. It's a fantastic end to a brilliant album.

Once this was released it sparred with 'Keep Moving' to be my favourite Madness album. Mood alone being the decider for me!

This release pairs the original album and the videos made for the 3 singles in a deluxe package with an album which almost comprehensively gathers up the B side material from the singles, new tracks recorded a couple of years later for their 'Our House' musical. I say almost because I've always been intrigued by the B side 'You're Wonderful (Remix)'. Presumably somewhere there is an unreleased 'You're Wonderful'?

We also get the cover of 'My Old Man' made for the 'Brand New Boots And Panties' Ian Dury tribute album, which plenty of fans will have missed from their collection. AWOL, however, is their cover of 'Money Money Money' recorded for the Abbamania project. No major loss artistically, but it would have fitted into the era based bonus tracks.

From 'Our House' the musical we get 'Simple Equation' (the pivotal song that links so many of the scenes in the musical, brilliantly performed in the original show by Joe's dad (Ian Reddington), 'Sarah's Song' which is radically different from the version used in the musical (it was sung with almost totally different lyrics by Sarah) which Lee had described as being perhaps a follow up to 'Embarrassment'. A sort of what might have happened 20 years later and a 2002 mix of 'It Must Be Love'. These songs were previously commercially available on the 'Our House' compilation. However notably absent is a slightly different mix of Sarah's Song, which was doing the rounds in rare promo sampler form. With a little luck this rarity will turn up on a later box set? We can't have everything can we?

Of the B sides 'You're Wonderful' and 'Round And Round' were apparently contenders for the album proper, but I'm not sure it would have benefitted from the inclusion of either as the 11 tracks chosen provided the fans with a wonderful new album. I'd urge anyone who missed out first time round to add this to their Madness album collection. The albums may come incredibly slowly these days, but Wonderful provides a brilliant bridge from Madness mk1, picking up the baton from Keep Moving and eventually passing it on to their career opus The Liberty Of Norton Folgate which followed almost a decade later.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 23, 2010 5:40 PM BST


Keep Moving
Keep Moving
Price: £9.89

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keep Moving, but pause to buy this!, 23 Jun. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Keep Moving (Audio CD)
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.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 18, 2010 3:25 PM BST


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