It was 1984 and – this being Olympic year – Madness’ cover to their fifth album depicts them as sprinters. Once again, it’s a picture of fun for Britain’s apparently wackiest band. Of course, now we know them as the matters of a very British form of ennui who were clever enough to articulate their melancholy in to chipper pop music.
Once again they tackled subjects which most pop groups wouldn’t even dare to cconsider. ‘Michael Caine’ was based on IRA informants but it’s got such a pretty little chorus and the lyrics are obligue enough to make you think it’s something far more innocent. Even prettier still is Mike Barson’s delightful piano melody underscoring ‘One Better Day’; the hook to one of the band’s most underrated singles. All the more suprising given that Suggs sings the affectionate ode to a homeless couple, accompanied by the the kind of cocktail jazz you might have heard from Sade in the same year.
For a band so good at picking singles though, it’s surprising the bouncy, infectious ‘Victoria Gardens’ never got released in its own right whilst ‘Waltz Into Mischief’ sounds more like a sea shanty. Proof that Madness took heed of their record title, even if it meant travelling backwards into song styles from previous times. Digging deeper still, ‘Samantha’ is urgent and dark on the surface as well underneath.
The sleevenotes from Phill Jupitus describe the album as a move from adolesence to adulthood. It’s a good point and there’s also a sense that vitality had been replaced by despair. Sadly, key member Barson left after this album and its successor ‘Mad Not Mad’ was described by the ever self-effacing Suggs as a “polished turd”.
Blur, The Kinks