Madness - Absolutely / 7
Two more double-disc sets from "Britain's favourite band" (© every recent Madness article). Favourites they may be, but Salvo have roped in critical heavyweights like Paul Lester and David Quantick to write the sleevenotes in an attempt to shake off the notion they will only ever be remembered as a 'singles band'.
Of the two albums 7, their third, is the strongest. They don't escape their ska roots entirely, but the overall sound is more sophisticated, positioning them as purveyors of grown-up pop somewhere alongside Squeeze as the perfect Everyband. The singles, 'Cardiac Arrest', 'Shut Up' and the strange chime of 'Grey Day' are deeply ingrained, like memories of warm beer, bulldogs and chicken fried rice, while numbers like 'Mrs Hutchinson' display a very early 80s dalliance with different rhythms, the rhumbic swing a product, perhaps, of the recording sessions in Nassau. Despite the weeks in sunnier climes, swirling fairground organs and a general air of English sinister pervades the entire work, cementing their position as a much more thoughtful troupe than the wacky videos suggested. 'Benny Bullfrog' showcases another key influence in the band's development: the japery of Ian Dury, while a thread of domestic surrealism runs through 'Pac A Mac', proving their evolution from the Nutty Boys of old to gifted observers of the national psyche.
The previous album, 1980's Absolutely is heavily front loaded, 'Baggy Trousers' typical of their ability to mix up-tempo ska with social realism ("All I learnt at school was how to bend not break the rule") while the more mod-ish 'Embarrassment' remains one of the truly great British singles of the era - and a reminder how quickly society can change, even in just three decades. 'Not Home Today' with its protagonist "on a short holiday" at Her Majesty's Pleasure continues the thread of gossip and shame, a theme which resurfaces on 'Overdone'. The throwaway boogie of 'Solid Gone' may have spoiled the flow somewhat and overall the album may have been slightly one-dimensional compared to what was to come, but it's remarkable to note that Rolling Stone's Greil Marcus saw fit to award the album just 1/5 on its original release, likening them to the Blues Brothers. Critics, eh? Line 'em up and shoot the buggers.
With the addition of relevant b-sides, radio sessions and live material all at a budget price, these superlative reissues do a fine job of capturing a music and time fast fading from memory.