Madness, Absolutely 1980, Stiff Records
Not Home Today
On the Beat Pete
Take it or Leave it
Shadow of Fear
In the Rain
The Return of the Los Palmas 7
After ending the 1970s with an album made by Londoners about London, why don’t we start the 1980s with an album made by Londoners about London? Well, Absolutely is a very different beast to London Calling. Formed in north London in 1976, Madness were key players in the two-tone ska revival along with The Specials. Although it always seems like there are about 20 members of Madness, at this time there were a comparatively modest 7. Graham McPherson (Suggs) being their most recognisable. Their debut album was commercially successful and this follow up, which contains some of their most successful singles got to number 2 in the chart. Subsequent albums were more poppy in style and there is a definite Madness sound that is a departure from true ska, but their most loved songs remain ska based numbers including later single “Our House” which was their most internationally successful.
The album kicks off with one of Madness’ most well known tunes, Baggy Trousers, it’s such a fun lively track which will take you right back to your childhood and Suggs’ vocal is almost impossible to keep up with. Embarrassment is a complete change of tone, although the beat remains toe-tapping, the lyrical content is quite sad, it’s about the band’s saxophonist Lee Thompson’s sister who was disowned by his family when she became pregnant with the child of someone who was a different race. E.R.N.I.E is another fun one about the machine that picks Premium Bond winners, it’s surprisingly catchy considering the subject matter. I wonder if this was a much bigger thing in the 1980s? Literally the only person I have ever known who still has premium bonds is my Mum, so I’m not too sure. Close Escape is one of those half-sung half-spoken songs that are a Madness hallmark and it’s a decent example of the style. Not Home Today has a bit of accordion and is actually a lovely, melancholy track about being sent to prison after a bit of knife crime with a delicate vocal (it is lovely, honestly!) On the Beat Pete, about a policeman is a weaker track, although it’s still fast and furious. Solid Gone is a crazy Elvis pastiche. It’s not really my thing, but the piano on it is awesome. Take it or Leave it is slightly slower and more melancholy in tone, but unfortunately it’s another weaker track. Shadow of Fear uses the usual snappy lyrical delivery to create a more menacing atmosphere. It’s definitely a departure from their usual tone, but it works well. Disappear is another not typically Madness song, but it’s actually great. The piano is solid and the lyrics, about the loss of history that comes with urban renewal are resonant and contemplative. It’s not a stomper, but it deserves its place here. Overdone is another quite sad song about a broken family. In The Rain has a great ska beat but sad lyrics. You Said is one of my favourite break-up songs ever. It’s upbeat rather than depressing and it actually shows a pretty mature attitude to the end of a relationship. Final track The Return of the Los Palmas 7 is a jazzy instrumental where Suggs steps aside to allow everyone else to shine.
There are definitely a few filler tracks on here, but it’s a fun album with lots of great tracks to dance to. perfect for those with a sunnier outlook on the world than punk fans. I think people often dismiss Madness as just being a gimmicky band. Obviously some of their lyrics are a bit silly and they are clearly having a great time, but there are also some great introspective lyrics and well crafted songs on this album.
Madness continue to tour and release music showing the quirkier side of London life. They
own their own recording studio in north London and have recorded much of their own music there. There has also been an Olivier award winning musical based on Madness’ music in the west end.
Their contribution to music may not be as important and far reaching as some of their contemporaries but at what we have already seen was a pretty dark time in the UK, they made fun music for people to dance to, and to paraphrase a slightly less well-respected group - There ain’t no party like a Madness party.