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    Madness

    One Step Beyond 8 ( 1979 )
    One Step Beyond / My Girl / Night Boat to Cairo / Believe Me / Land of Hope and Glory / The Prince / Tarzan's Nuts / In the Middle of the Night / Bed & Breakfast Man / Razor Blade Alley / Swan Lake / Rockin' in A / Mummy's Boy / Madness / Chipmunks Are Go!

    Madness has horns, are a ska band formed in the wake of The Specials and were an all white band that wrote pop songs. 'One Step Beyond' opens with a largely instrumental cover of a Prince Buster song that showcases the Madness horn players, not since Joe Meeks 'Fabulous Flee Rekkers' had horns played such a prominent and exciting part in a pop song! Elsewhere, Madness invent Blur some ten years early with songs such as the jaunty and very brit-pop sounding 'In The Middle Of The Night' or 'Believe Me'. If you are British and whatever you think of Suggs and co (the 80s saw them have hit over hit, whilst only being a minor presence in the US charts) if you give this début album of theirs a spin, I trust you'll realise there was a reason for their momentum - a lot of their artistic credibility outside of hit singles came from this début long-player. A smattering of Prince Buster ska covers arrive, some pop songs, occasionally a slice of silliness they were overly encouraged to pursue in later years combine to form a happy début album that for people of a certain age - it spent a year in the UK album charts - will likely to have heard from a relative or friend at some stage of their lives. So, SKA influences abound, so do Small Faces and Doors influences, among possibly some hidden Joe Meek ones. Well, Fabulous Flee Rekkers if not listened to by Madness should be, pronto.

    I detect an Elvis Costello/Nick Lowe influence hanging over hit single, the self-deprecating yet packed with delicious Piano melodies that is 'My Girl'. 'Rockin In A' shows some diversity, among the pop songs we get a 50s rock n roll solo, most welcoming. We get instrumentals, or largely instrumentals that showcase both their ska roots and their marvellous (as jools holland might say) horn section. 'Night Boat In Cairo' charted in the UK, one of many hits they would have and sounds both Ska, poppy and unlike anything else they'd ever do once they fairly quickly ditched their Ska/two-tone 'roots' following this album - never again would we hear those horns soar so utterly magnificently! Fast forward in time, Blur circa 1993 are looking for a new sound to counter the American grunge scene - they find it, partly with this often overlooked Madness 'One Step Beyond' album - particularly with 'Believe Me', 'Mummy's Boy' and 'In The Middle Of The Night' - both character pop songs with brass, guitars and lyrics that take a central, fictional character. The likes of 'Tarzan's Nuts' are mostly instrumental affairs, and after 'One Step Beyond' they ditched, sadly, such enjoyable affairs.

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    Readers Comments

    Craig Kingswinford
    One Step Beyond, My Girl, Night Boat to Cairo - all remain classics of their canon. Include The Prince, Madness and you have a pretty good decent album there. Don't have the political overtones of The Specials. They are essentially a great pop band. 8 seems a fair mark of the album, and has any of their other albums had more hit singles on it (not including compliations)?

    Absolutely 7 ( 1980 )
    Baggy Trousers / Embarrassment / E.R.N.I.E. / Close Escape / Not Home Today / On the Beat Pete / Solid Gone / Take It or Leave It / Shadow of Fear / Disappear / Overdone / In the Rain / You Said / The Return of the Los Palmas 7

    The second album by Madness just didn't, and hasn't, stuck in the minds of pop fans anywhere near the same way their début did. No romantic memories of when you bought 'Absolutely' and told tales of first putting the needle on the vinyl have comes across my attention. Opening with 'Baggy Trousers' for instance ups the nutty and downplays the artistic - nice brass parping, though. The second track on the album was also a single, this front loading of Madness albums was a problem other eighties bands would also suffer from. 'Embarrassment' featured lovely brass instruments and a strong melody with vocals that sounded like they meant something. Ok, these vocals are hardly spitting venom aka Paul Weller circa The Jam, yet it meant the song could be taken seriously. 'ERNIE' is like brit-pop Blur and as charming as character British music-hall songs generally are if you are into that type of thing. 'Not Home Again' is nice enough, but in reality much a poor man 'Nightboat In Cairo'. Well, although this song is louder and plonkier in the Piano and features much brass - the tune seems to serve a similar although not as effective, purpose. Too many jaunty, upbeat songs pass by in a similar style to 'Ernie', although none as effective. If 'One Step Beyond' had differing styles and diversity within the Madness template - then there's none of that here, at all.

    'Disappear' starts with impressive Piano trills then eases into another Suggs led tale of bad behaviour and storytelling. Still, it could be much worse, 'Solid Gone' opens with shouting ala 'One Step Beyond' before descending into an end of the pier 50s pastiche. One redeeming feature is the closing 'Return Of The Los Palmas', an instrumental affair with a foreign holiday and happy feel - its memorable - I hadn't heard it for thirty years before reviewing this set yet now remember it instantly - like a seaside resort spent during the school holidays in the summer. Madness were, it's fair to be said, a great bunch of musicians. It's therefore a shame their actual material didn't always live up to the promise the band often showed during live shows or the more promising moments as an albums band, as opposed to their popularly received reputation, as a singles act only.

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    this page last updated 22/06/14


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