Under Review: Madness – The Liberty Of Norton Folgate

It’s sad to say, but the truth is that ‘80s reunion tours are all the rage. Bands who had less than one hit tour with other bands whose collective rent is due, playing audiences who wouldn’t dare buy an ‘80s band’s new album. Of course, each band has its legion of true fans, those patient and tenacious enough to keep tabs on these groups decades after their heydays. If any one of those troopers was waiting for Madness to make their grand return, they can consider the wait both over and worthwhile. The Liberty Of Norton Folgate, the first all-original release by Madness since 1999, has the guys expanding and solidifying their peerless “nutty” style. Unlike many ‘reunion’ albums (like The Weirdness or Uncle Dysfunktional), The Liberty Of Norton Folgate is most surprising in how much it doesn’t, well, suck. Madness was always the kind of band that, even when the guys’ musical ideas ran thin, their fun-loving, knuckle-headed attitude made them infinitely forgivable. The album is available in a few different forms, with varying amounts of songs. Like all the best British bands, Madness focused on one thing as inspiration for the new album: the England of yesteryear. Though it’s not quite The Village Green Preservation Society, the songs romp through various lost worlds of London, culminating with the 10 minute, string-driven title track. When most bands whose songs average three or four minutes attempt such a sprawling piece, it can come off as indulgent or pretentious, but Madness pull it off with effortless ease. “Let’s Go” features the “heavy, heavy monster sound” that Madness proclaimed they would deliver 30 years ago, and “On The Town” features ex-Bodysnatchers vocalist Rhoda Dakar (best known for the terrifying track that is “The Boiler”). Perhaps what makes The Liberty Of Norton Folgate such an enjoyable listen is that it doesn’t pander to the listener. It’s not cagey, not by any means, but it doesn’t insult the listener in the way another greatest hits compilation would have. That is to say that, even though they sing about the ‘good old days,’ the boys of Madness aren’t trying to recapture their fame, at least not by retreading their hits. Sure, “Dust Devil” and the jaunty “Fish & Chips” are catchy, but in the same way that Blur’s weird tracks were best enjoyed with a winking eye and open palate. It may seem overly ambitious, but The Liberty Of Norton Folgate is a triumph, not only of Madness’ career, but of modern Britpop.

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~ by E. on July 31, 2009.

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