Sunday, 20 March 2011

Mini Review: Madness - Wonderful (1999)

The first retro review comes by form of request, so why not? Madness are a band that emerged out of the UK’s burgeoning ska crowd during the late 70’s, but quickly stood apart from the competition by combining the ska origins found in early reggae with the quintessentially English-ness of the later Beatles recordings, and continue in this way today. Their reunion album, 1999’s Wonderful has it’s fair share of enjoyable moments; "Drip Fed Fred" for example features contributing vocals from the similarly minded (and treasured) Ian Dury, and also looks back to more conventional ska beginnings, and admittedly the Bo Diddley beat bassline holds "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning" joyously; however looking at the evolution of the band there appears to be little in terms of change from the last great Madness record, 1982’s The Rise and Fall, and this trend continues into the present day, most recently with 2009’s The Liberty of Norton Folgate (which coincidently is the true successor to Wonderful). It’s hard not to see this record as merely a step between these two, and doesn’t hold much to either of them. There isn’t an "Our House"-like single to glue the largely forgettable tracks together; each song has to stand by itself, and with the lack of originality between them it proves difficult to salvage more than a handful of them. The other problem I have is the same thought I have when listening to any of the post-7 Madness albums, and that is that they’re trying to reconstruct Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or The Village Green Preservation Society, which frankly they’re not innovative enough to develop something to equal either (though The Rise and Fall is as close as many may get). Wonderful also imitates the great pop albums that have gone before it: why "The Communicator" had to fade out to the Pet Sounds ending is anyone’s guess. The cloying ambition of each track may appeal only to a few, particularly certain circles of Brits, but Madness’ Wonderful is neither a great ska album nor a classic pop record. Those looking for the latter will probably find a better alternative in any of the records mentioned already in this review, or even a mini review from a few days ago, Gruff Rhys’ Hotel Shampoo.

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