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on 3 September 2010
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.
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on 6 September 2010
A year after 1985's excellent (and criminally underrated) Mad Not Mad, Madness announced they were splitting. In 1988 four of the original seven members produced the 'The Madness' album, which contained some moments of brilliant songwriting (In Wonder, Nightmare Nightmare, Beat the Bride, Gabriel's Horn), but also one or two songs which, if we're being really honest, were slightly sub-par.

Between 1988 and 1992 everything went quiet. In early 1992 they released the Divine Madness compilation, which collected, for the first time, all their greatest hits onto one cd. The band probably expected it to have modest success, but when it went to Number 1 in the album charts (and subsequently spent almost 2 years on the bestseller lists) they must have realised that there were still plenty of fans out there who loved them and their music.

In the summer of 1992 the original seven members of Madness got together for 2 open air reunion concerts in Finsbury Park, London, playing to 40,000 fans each day. The concerts were known as 'Madstock' and there were a number of other one-off get togethers and Christmas concerts throughout the nineties.

But what about new material, and more importantly, a new album? The fans had to wait a long time from that August weekend in 1992, but in 1999 the original seven members delivered Wonderful; 9 brand new songs, a reworked track from one of Suggs' solo albums and a cover.

The fans would have accepted anything, but as with all Madness albums, quality control was set sky high and the album was, well, absolutely wonderful.

Lovestruck was the first single, released before the album, and sounded like an instant classic. And the songwriters of this top 10 tune? Lyrics by Lee Thompson and music by (who else) Mike Barson. No wonder it sounded like classic Madness!

The rest of the album was packed with other gems. For fans of the 2009 masterpiece The Liberty of Norton Folgate, Johnny The Horse and Drip Fed Fred could easily have been part of the tracklisting. The Communicator had an old school ska feel to it (with a hint of The Archies' Sugar Sugar!). 4 A.M. gives a significant nod to The Kinks. The brooding If I Didn't Care sounded like it was from a film soundtrack.

Key track for me, however, is Elysium. It is, without a doubt, one of the best songs Madness have ever recorded. The downward key changes in the last minute or so sound simply brilliant.

The extras are good too, with some excellent b sides (You're Wonderful, Round and Round and I Was the One being the pick for me) and tracks from the Madness musical, 'Our House'.

It is a pity that this album may be somewhat overshadowed by the album they produced 10 years later. The Liberty of Norton Folgate has been hailed by almost everyone as a modern day masterpiece (and quite right too). But the seeds for that album were probably sown 10 years earlier, when they produced Wonderful.

If the 1992 Madstock concerts and the 2 brilliant albums they produced in 1999 and 2009 go to show anything, it is that Madness only really hit the very top of their game when all seven original members are back together, be it in the studio or on stage, and Wonderful proves just how magical that can be.
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on 8 September 2010
Contrary to what appears to be general belief, in my opinion THIS is the finest album from madness with every track being brilliant, With a beautiful string and horn section this is without doubt in my eyes and ears miles better than the rather patchy Liberty album and one that deserves a place in the very best albums of all time.
However this 2 cd remaster isn't what you would call essential by any means, much of the extra stuff on the second cd is b-sides which whilst being novel to have they all have been released on their respective cd singles and to be honest with exception of the track wonderful none of them are paricually classics but they remain passable but in terms of extras this is the weakest to date of the bands reissue's.
As far as wonderful the album itself goes it's just classic madness, i mean a song about falling in love with a lamp post is priceless and the full madness treatment of suggs's 4am is a joy to behold.
I also agree that elysium is one of the best songs that the band have done (It's my second favourite) and the entire album is full of pure madness perfection.
In 1999 when they came back it was music to my ears, i remember the slot on top of the pops when lee fell over and even the videos were fantastic too and harked back to classic madness which is something that i feel has been lost on the latest album but i wont go into all that but at the end of the day in my opinion this album is still their greatest work and i guess always will be.
I'm not entirely convinced that this album needed a remaster though because the original was nigh on perfect and all this reissue adds is unwanted volume and also sounds more tinny than the original and although it's not that bad i still prefer the sound of the original.
If you are new to madness then you will probably not have this album and so to have it all together with the extra bits it is a nice way to start but if your a fan for the sake of completion then i guess it's worth having but if you have the stuff already then stick with the originals as they do sound better.
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on 1 November 2016
Ok Ive been a madness fan since I first heard 'the prince' back in '79. Got the majority of there albums including the marvellous new one 'can't touch us now'.
I seemed to have missed this one don't know how because on a first play it's very good.
Ok a few tracks not sure about. But I find it takes more than listen to appreciate it sometimes.
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on 22 May 2015
Superb underated album. In this album you can hear where madness were going with their later albums such as Norton Forgate. This is the crossroads though although you hear the future you can still pick out bits of One Step, Absolutely, Seven and Rise and Fall. This is my second favorite album of theirs after absolutely. The influences of The Kinks and Ian Dury are all here.
If you love music or are a Madness Fan this is a must have.
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on 28 September 2010
Another excellent re-issue. Collect the set. Each album has the original album plus the videos and as many a-sides, b-sides & rarities as they can fit on. Each album also has a well presented booklet with lots to read.

I have enjoyed listening to all of Madness' albums once again. And if anyone who enjoyed listening to Madness back in the 80's has not yet bought their newest album 'Liberty of Norton Folgate' then put it in your shopping basket now.
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on 17 November 2010
This is a must for any Madness fan.The cd comes with 11 tracks plus 3 promo videos.Lovestruck,Johnny The Horse & Drip Fed Fred.The 2nd cd is 14 tracks mainly re-mix tracks & some b side singles .It also includes a brilliant track , My old Man.This cd will surely get any Madness fan singing.
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on 10 October 2010
This is one of their best albums they have ever made. Madness at their best.
This album contains the A - and the B sides. Including the promo video`s
It is one of the set which came out this year to celebrate their 30 years anniversal
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on 2 August 2011
Having been a Madness fan all my adult life was introduced to this album and The Liberty of Norton Folgate by a friend. Both awesome and both worth every penny. So pleased I bought this.
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on 10 October 2010
Some of Madness' best B-sides & extras ever on an album... only question is how did "Light of the Way", "I was the One" and "Dreaming Man" not make the actual album itself?
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