“Absolutely” by Madness - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1980Album Chart of the Decade: 1980s

TJR says

Following on from their exuberant, if rarely-serious, debut, Madness hit a brilliant peak right here; “Absolutely” manages to strike a perfect balance between their shiny single larks and the slightly greyer pop that was wont to bobble beneath the surface of Mike Barson’s oft-under-rated arrangements. But what’s that? One out of five stars at Rolling Stone? Yer ‘avin a GIRAFFE guv! The Invaders from North London could do no wrong in Britain and Europe, but the Americans were clearly immune to the subtleties and charms of the nutty sound, the colourful grasp of language and the nuanced delivery with which Suggs was gifted. I’ve always had this thing about London, especially the cockney accent – it’s street-real and tough-but-friendly in normal day-to-day life. On “E.R.N.I.E.” our man empathizes with the age-old working-class lie-dreams of the big windfall: “One more try, try to get wot you never ‘ad, five more bob for the whole world it can’t be bad?” Not that ordinary folks are blindly romanticised here; the preceding track, “Embarrassment”, infers disapproval at those who would proclaim faith in strong family values, yet buckle at the slightest hint of shame or scandal which could upset the neighbours, with teen pregnancy and mixed-race relations being tantamount to war crimes for the hedge-row massive. The dark subject matter is paradoxically placed within the confines of the bounciest, most Top-of-the-Pops-friendly tune on the album; there are no hammers to crack nuts with Madness.

From start to finish, the band are playing out of their skin, with a style which is almost uniquely their own; a cerebral fusion of soul, rhythm n blues, pop, ska and reggae. Musically and lyrically they could be thoughtful and provoking or just as readily be set to party mode; this, together with the everyday lads image, was part of the huge appeal which had me hooked. Society’s appetite for social shaming is to the fore once again on the amazing “Not Home Today”, a minor-key reggae masterpiece, framed by a mournful harmonica and a masterful group performance which expertly underpins the mini-drama about a vicious miscreant jailed for GBH, and the subsequent attempts of the family home to conceal the truth from the gossiping neighbours. “A flick of the wrist, he wished that he had missed” suggests that an attack with a blade lies at the centre of the trial, and the excuse “he’s gone away on a short holiday, he won’t be back for a while” confirms both the guilty verdict, and the attempt at a cover-up on the home-front. After two minutes of story bounce, the group proceed to stomp and march for 30 seconds, as the incarcerated one is led away to his new residence at her majesty’s pleasure, and the tale concludes with the sound of a cell door being slammed shut, leaving the music as nothing but a tinny annoyance in the distance; just as it will be for our man from hereon.

Immediately thereafter, the tone is considerably lightened with the patrolling bobby with the size-ten feet, characterized in “On The Beat Pete”, who encounters all facets of London life on his daily watch: “Hello Fred you look half dead, are you coming are you going? I could never do a double shift … Hello Steve long time no see, I like the Stones still on the thieve? … Hello Snowball you still drunk? Here have a smoke and one for lunch.” Not a single track on side 2 is less than classic, beginning with “Take It Or Leave It”, a tale of alienation and paranoia that works on both personal and international terms. There aren’t too many dub-piano tunes kicking around, but this has got to be right up there with the best in the niche genre. Clever use of chords and tempo create a frantic tension to the Ska in “Shadow Of Fear”, which fades before the stalker can strike. “Disappear” cements Madness growing reputation as ace purveyors of cerebral pop music; boy-oh-boy can they play. Stately piano, stop-start tensions, driven Casino-Soul beats – it’s all here together with a superb vocal from Suggs, chock-full of character in the way of Ray Davies before him. The trademark piano-dub goodness is in evidence once again on “Overdone” – by this stage it’s apparent that these boys have delivered one of the greatest albums of the age. This feeling is strengthened with “In The Rain”, the sprightliness of which seems to capture the early spirit of the 2-Tone revival, but with a vocal delivery which is doused in the real-life blues; we feel for our boy and his girl troubles: “Standing here in the rain, maybe the weather will change again, change again or stay the bleedin’ same”. Every bit the stunning equal of this is “You Said”, which seems to serve as a sequel to the girl troubles: “I’ll suppose I’ll be sad for a week or two, but in the end it’s the same for me and you”. The band supports the storyline brilliantly – Lee’s sax, Mike’s piano, Chris’s guitar, Bedder’s bass, Woody’s drums – this unit clearly work as one. The eloquence of the players or, as Chas Smash introduces them, Tommy McGloin and his combo, is clear for all to hear on the wonderful finale, “Return Of The Los Palmas 7”. Cha-cha-cha-cha. Goodnight.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [02:45] 9.5.png Madness - Baggy Trousers (Graham McPherson, Chris Foreman) Ska / Rocksteady
A2 [03:13] 10.0.png Madness - Embarrassment (Lee Thompson, Mike Barson) Pop
A3 [02:45] 9.4.png Madness - E.R.N.I.E. (Graham McPherson, Chris Foreman) Pop
A4 [03:29] 9.2.png Madness - Close Escape (Lee Thompson, Chris Foreman) Ska / Rocksteady
A5 [02:30] 10.0.png Madness - Not Home Today (Graham McPherson, Mark Bedford) Reggae
A6 [03:05] 8.7.png Madness - On The Beat Pete (Mike Barson, Graham McPherson, Lee Thompson, Chris Foreman, Mark Bedford, Cathal Smyth, Daniel Woodgate) Ska / Rocksteady
A7 [02:22] 7.3.png Madness - Solid Gone (Cathal Smyth) Rock n Roll / Rockabilly
B1 [03:26] 9.8.png Madness - Take It Or Leave It (Lee Thompson, Mike Barson) Ska / Rocksteady
B2 [01:58] 9.4.png Madness - Shadow Of Fear (Graham McPherson, Mike Barson) Ska / Rocksteady
B3 [02:58] 9.9.png Madness - Disappear (Graham McPherson, Mark Bedford) New Wave
B4 [03:45] 9.5.png Madness - Overdone (Lee Thompson, Chris Foreman) Cerebral Pop
B5 [02:42] 10.0.png Madness - In The Rain (Mike Barson, Graham McPherson, Lee Thompson, Chris Foreman, Mark Bedford, Cathal Smyth, Daniel Woodgate) Ska / Rocksteady
B6 [02:35] 10.0.png Madness - You Said (Graham McPherson, Mike Barson) Ska / Rocksteady
B7 [02:01] 9.0.png Madness - Return Of The Los Palmas 7 (Mike Barson, Mark Bedford, Daniel Woodgate) Cerebral Pop

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