Of all the bands, Madness occupy a unique position as a band I loved, then ignored, then loved again. Having grown up listening to the likes of ‘Baggy Trousers’ and ‘House Of Fun’ they became one of my favourite bands. It’s clear to see why; their songs were easy to sing along to and they made some kid-friendly videos which normally featured the “Nutty Boys” larking about. I then grew out of them, dismissing them as a “joke” band. Then suddenly I started hearing about this band who captured the ennui of the early 1980’s. Could this really be Madness? ‘7’ their third album is Exhibit A of their lasting excellence.
The obvious place to start with Madness is the singles. From the chirpy melodies and witty yet dark lyrics of ‘Cardiac Arrest’, it’s easy to see where Blur got some of their ideas from. ‘Shut Up’ is superbly arranged around an imaginative sequence of piano chords and brass instruments. Then there’s ‘Grey Day’, which is their melancholic message jackhammered home so the listeners know, beyond any doubt, they really are a serious band. Their “crime” was that they just happened to write really good pop tunes.
Naturally, Madness have been well established as a great singles band but on ‘7’ they started to achieve success across the longer format. The surprisingly moder-sounding and intense ‘Missing You’ swings like The Charlatans. Although typically jolly on the surface, ‘Mrs. Hutchinson’ ends with the words “Your mother will not last the week. Shame” which kind of dismisses that “joke band” idea whilst ‘Tomorrow’s Dream’ tackles the subject of depression with some addictive key changes. Given the prolific release rate, it is forgiveable perhaps that a few tracks descend into novelty (‘Benny Bullfrog’, for example, only needs to be heard once) and this does mar an otherwise great album but the only insrumental track here, ‘The Opium Eaters’, is another hidden treasure.
Now thirty years into their career, perhaps Madness are now more appreciated than ever, providing the missing link between The Kinks and Blur. This particular brand of British whimsy is arguably the most fun to listen too as well.
Blur, The Kinks