I was not a fan of Madness as a youth. The greatest compliment I can pay the Camden-based, self-styled Nutty Boys is that I tolerated their energetic slices of pop mayhem and would never race for the off switch on my loyal trannie when one of their breezy 45rpm singles appeared on the airwaves. They were alright but in the 1980s I had other, po-faced, black-clad fish to fry.
This makes my searing admiration for the group’s new recording, The Liberty of Norton Folgate, all the more surprising. This is a grown-up long player for grown-ups, a concept album about Madness’s much loved London Town and it’s full of insight, depth, wit, wisdom and, gulp, beauty; there are more life-affirming heart-warming songs on the blighter than a cockney fellow could conceivably shake a pork pie hat at. I adore the first proper song on the LP, We Are London, a blissfully affectionate homage to our nation’s capital that endorses tolerance and community with warmth and maturity. Sugar and Spice is reminiscent of Squeeze’s Up The Junction, a cosy narrative packed with earnest and touching details - ‘We bought a flat in Golders Green/A second hand fridge and a washing machine’ - delivered over an exquisite melody. The whole album continues in this vein with slice after slice of utter charm served up, accompanied by soaring and delicate arrangements and catchy-but-not-cheesy tunes. A lot of the press reviews I’ve read have acclaimed this as Madness’s finest work ever and a true career highlight and I can appreciate why so many bouquets are heading in the combo’s direction. It’s a delicious piece of work and I’m more than happy to admit an error in not believing a band I have always regarded as lightweight, fun and relatively inconsequential could create something this special.