Tuesday, June 15, 2010

SPAZ reviews MADNESS reissues!

SALVO MUSIC presents

Digitally remastered and expanded double CD editions of the first three 



Like the Kinks before them and Blur a decade or so later, MADNESS were (and remain) one of the  best and most quintessential British bands of the Rock era.  They came from London, lived in London, sang about London and celebrated life in London. Yet, many of their finest tunes held universal appeal, reaching out across different countries and having a profound effect on listeners around the world.

If you're sitting there, thinking "What's he going on about?  Madness were a goofy Ska band!", then you weren't paying attention, apart from maybe a track or two from their first album!  Madness may have risen from the late '70s Ska movement, but by their second album in 1980, they had matured a great deal and naturally progressed beyond any particular genre.  For some reason, it annoys ME a great deal when people call them a Ska band, but that's just because I love these guys so much.  Yes, I LOVE Madness.  Get over it!

The band had a slew of great singles spanning their initial six year career (1979-1985), and they've been referred to as the best singles band of the '80s.  While I agree with that wholeheartedly, I'll also have to call them one of the best album bands of the '80s as well.  There was never any filler on a Madness album. The only time that the band got close to putting out sub-par material was a few b-sides towards the end of their career, but that was it. The rest of the band's output is absolutely stunning.

One of the things that made Madness exceptional was that they were always an ordinary bunch of blokes who just happened to be extraordinarily talented.  From their early days up through Pop stardom and beyond, Madness never lost sight of who they were, what they meant to their fans and what their fans meant to them. Madness were just like you and me.  Except more popular, more talented and way cooler.

Madness were originally six members (Suggs, Chris Foreman, Mark Bedford, Lee Thompson, Mike Barson and Daniel Woodgate) but Carl Smythe (Chas Smash) made such an impression during the recording of their debut that he became a full-time member. And the mixture of these seven members made Madness one of the most amazing hit machines of our generation. 

Before writing this review, I sat down and looked at many of their contemporaries that I've loved throughout the years and compared them to Madness. From The Clash and The Undertones to Ultravox and A Flock Of Seagulls (and everyone in between), none of them can touch Madness' brilliant back catalog.  And trust me, I love those other bands with a passion.... but Madness were not just any band.  They were a fucking extraordinary band!  The only three bands that I feel equaled Madness' brilliance were The jam, Squeeze and Split Enz. But those are different blog postings for a different day...

While all of Madness' albums have received the remaster treatment on CD, the extra love and attention that they deserved was missing... until Salvo began their Madness reissue campaign late last year with the release of One Step Beyond. Since then, both Absolutely and 7 have been given the same treatment and, just around the corner are deluxe double CD editions of The Rise And Fall and Keep Moving.  As I anxiously await the release of the deluxe double disc versions of those two fine albums, I'm going to take a look back at the three titles that have already hit the shelves and are ready for you to purchase the moment you get a chance!  Credit cards were made for moments like this!

One Step Beyond was the band's 1979 debut album... and what an impact it made! Along with The Specials and The (English) Beat, Madness were one of the main players in the Ska/2-Tone movement that took the UK by storm at the tail end of the '70s.  While their debut single, "The Prince", was an homage to Jamaican Ska legend Prince Buster, One Step Beyond (the album) used Ska as a starting point and took off in several different directions. While hits like "One Step Beyond" and "Night Boat To Cairo" remain Ska classics, there are moments on the album that show that the band was already out-growing the genre. "Bed And Breakfast Man" is pure '60s influenced pop with no sign of Jamaican influences within earshot. "My Girl" is gorgeous pop that just happens to have a Ska beat. "In The Middle Of The Night" (about an underwear thief!) is a glorious throwback to British music hall wrestling with classic '60s pop.  Each and every song is a triumph as this young band tackles musical styles that artists twice their age would have difficulty attempting.  Not only is the album musically diverse, it's as fun as hell!  They don't call them Madness for nothing! Oh, and production from Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley is stunning and timeless.

Disc One features the original 15 track album plus five enhanced videos!

Disc Two contains four Peel Sessions plus an additional 14 b-sides, edits, alternate versions and live tracks.

Absolutely essential for music fans in general, but certainly more-so for Madness fans!

A year after their debut, Absolutely hit the streets in 1980.  While Ska was still part of their sound, Madness were not relying on one musical trend in order to get their musical point across.  Yes, they were still extremely fun, energetic and upbeat but the songs were even better than those on One Step Beyond! That debut album remains a classic, but Absolutely is damn near brilliant.  The band not only avoided the 'sophomore slump', they defied all expectations and became bona-fide Pop stars when all of their contemporaries were falling away, unable to break out of the Ska mould.  Absolutely is filled with great pop tunes that still sound exciting and timeless, due to top-notch songwriting and Langer & Winstanley's production.  Tracks like "Embarrassment", "E.R.N.I.E.", "Baggy Trousers" and "Disappear" are some of the band's finest cuts, but the whole album is filled with wonderful surprises.  Madness had successfully broken away from the shackles of Ska and created their own unique sound.  Madness had truly arrived.

Disc One contains the original 14 track album joined by seven non-album tracks (b-sides, live and rare recordings) PLUS three enhanced videos.

Disc Two is a great 21 track live set recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in December of 1980.  This excellent set features a nice mix of tracks from their first two albums.

Yes, absolutely essential. No pun intended.

While Madness were still the most fun you could have with your clothes on, their third album, 7, showed a side of the band that we had not seen before.  On the surface, the album contained their usual jovial and fun approach to music, yet, lyrically, it pointed in a far more somber direction. The single "Grey Day" was a dub-laden and lyrically depressing come-down after the party the band had on the first two albums... and it was brilliant. "Mrs. Hutchinson" deals with the impending death of a certain hospital patient. "Cardiac Arrest" describes a heart attack brought on by stress.  "Shut Up" is sung from the point of view of a career criminal caught in an uncompromising position.  Well, OK, so it may not be the 'woe is me' crap that Emo bands have given us in recent years, but for Madness, this was serious stuff.  That is not to say that the album isn't fun, because it is. "Benny Bullfrog" is a gem of a tune, no matter how close it gets to novelty.  More musically diverse than Absolutely, 7 is a stunning and mature album that this writer feels is one of their best albums, if not their best.  Ska fans were sorely disappointed by the lack of skanking tunes, but Madness had grown up and this albums remains a fantastic platter of Pop gems. Once again, Langer & Winstanley's production is flawless.  NOTE: While "It Must Be Love" was NOT included on the album, it was released as a single shortly after this album's release and can be found on the bonus disc.  One of their all-time finest singles, "It Must Be Love" was a brilliant re-invention of the classic Labi Sifre tune, succeeding on all levels.  In fact, many folks think it's a Madness original... and they definitely turn it into a song they can nearly claim as their own.

Disc One features the original 13 track album plus four enhanced videos.

Disc Two features three tracks from a Richard Skinner session (including "Tiptoes", which was later recorded for the band's following album, The Rise & Fall) plus eight additional non album tracks (including "It Must Be Love", "In The City" and even the very rare extended version of "Cardiac Arrest").

All I can say is "WOW!" This is a truly essential album. But it's Madness, so what did you expect?

Coming in July on Salvo: The Rise & Fall and Keep Moving.  I'll see you here the moment I get 'em! Don't mind me: I'm salivating now in anticipation!

You're welcome,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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