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Madness - The Liberty of Norton Folgate (Cover Artwork)

Madness

Madness: The Liberty of Norton FolgateThe Liberty of Norton Folgate (2009)
Yep Roc Records

Reviewer Rating: 3
User Rating:


Contributed by: JephsoJephso
(others by this writer | submit your own)

Madness were a band vitally important to the UK ska scene of the '70s and '80s, although they did write music which was always more pop-oriented and less politically charged than that of bands like the Specials and the Beat. Silly, giddy hits like "Baggy Trousers," "House of Fun" and "Driving in My .
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Madness were a band vitally important to the UK ska scene of the '70s and '80s, although they did write music which was always more pop-oriented and less politically charged than that of bands like the Specials and the Beat. Silly, giddy hits like "Baggy Trousers," "House of Fun" and "Driving in My Car" garnered the band a more mainstream fanbase and ensured their longevity, proven by the success of Our House the Musical and the current prices of their concert tickets. But despite the band's popularity even now, I missed the announcement that they had released a new album in May of last year. You could argue that the lack of fanfare for this release shows the public are only interested in the band's back catalogue, but this new album was apparently quite good, as I originally came across it through a 'Best of 2009' list on the BBC website.

The Liberty of Norton Folgate (named after a patch of land in the centre of London) opens with "Overture," a nostalgic, brass-based introduction, but as soon as the band starts up with second track, "We Are London," the thick production is evident and jarring. Down-tempo, predictably structured songs come one after another, until we reach "Rainbows," a song which starts to feel more urgent and interesting, but then falls into another chorus which could have fit into any of the previous four tracks and you wouldn't have noticed.

The music is pleasing enough and tries to be uplifting, but everything feels very tame, with vocals lacking any energy, and uninspired, studio-produced instruments tapping away in the background. The Madness of old manages to shine through in parts, such as the piano playing and raspy sax solo on "That Close," but these references to the past are few and far between.

As you move deeper into the 59 minutes of music here, though, the tracks start to grow darker and more creative and the album begins to live up to its concept ambitions. Jaunty oom-pah rhythms become the order of the day, and "Clerkenwell Polka" stands out with its scat singing finale. Then the whole album culminates in the 10-minute title track, foreign musical themes seeping through Suggs' commentary on the multicultural history of the English capital.

The many rave reviews of this album show that it has satisfied a large portion of the Madness fanbase. I imagine this type of fan would be a Londoner who could receive a thrill upon hearing the many references to their native city throughout this album--a fan who grew up with Madness, but whose tastes have mellowed along, expectedly, with the band's sound. Madness's spark and ska influences have certainly dimmed and have been substituted for production and middle-of-the-road songwriting in areas, so don't expect anything like their lively hits of the 1980s. However, you will find a novel idea for a concept album, explored well towards the end.

 

 
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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
Skibz777 (March 4, 2010)

Fair enough.

jephso (March 4, 2010)

I'm merely pointing out the angle I used when writing the review. The lack or presence of a certain style of music on this album had no bearing on my overall score. I thought it was 3 star album for the reasons I mentioned in the review.

Skibz777 (March 3, 2010)

"And the reason for my focus on Madness' ska sound is because this band wouldn't be relevant to this site if they had just been an 80s pop band for their whole career."

I don't understand that logic. Madness are mostly remembered for their contributions to ska, yes (although they're more globally remembered for their pop hits), but just because one lesser aspect of their work appeals to a certain niche demographic, it doesn't negate their entire discography and career so that you may unjustly compare their newest album to what they sounded like for one album thirty years ago. I'm bad at examples, but would you criticize 'Sandinista!' because it doesn't adhere to the straightforward punk sound/image that made the Clash relevant to the scene in the first place? 'Norton Folgate' isn't a ska album, so it's unfair to judge it as such. You can acknowledge and even disapprove of the lack of ska, but at least grade the album on its own merits as what it is: pop.

Irish_Punk_Is_Gimmickry (March 3, 2010)

i'm interested.

jephso (March 2, 2010)

Maybe our definition of 'production' is different, but in regard to the instrumentation, everything sounds very clean, layered and expensive, especially the vocals and electronic percussion. In regard to the songs themselves, those near the start of the album felt very predictably structured. Granted, they did start to get more proggy and interesting towards the end.

And the reason for my focus on Madness' ska sound is because this band wouldn't be relevant to this site if they had just been an 80s pop band for their whole career.

BeastInside (March 2, 2010)

This is a fantastic record. I don't think they've necessarily lost their collective spark. Madness has been much more than a ska band since the 3rd or 4th record. This reminds me, not in terms of sound but rather in spirit, of Joe Strummer's work with the Mescaleroes. Strummer once referred to his work from that period as, "music for grownups." And that's what Madness has created here.

xchemicalx (March 2, 2010)

Despite a generally positive review, I can't let slide the fact that you insinuate that the album is too produced. It's the LACK of production that makes this record the best thing to happen to two-tone since "In The Studio".

This album is phenomenal, and deserves consideration for any year-end list.

Oh and save for the Kinks cover, the Dangerman Sessions was great.

AnEpicProblem (March 2, 2010)

I've never liked this band. I find their so-called classic, "One Step Beyond," uneventful and repetitive.

mcflynnthm (March 2, 2010)

I really enjoyed this album. I don't know that I'd call it best of 2009-worthy, but it was a solid record. And yeah, the title track is fantastic.

Skibz777 (March 2, 2010)

I thought this was Madness' best album since their arguable best album 'The Rise & Fall', of which 'Norton Folgate' is pretty much a direct musical continuation of, their brand of ska-inflected pop. Maybe I'm wrong, but I sensed the reviewer was expecting something more along the lines of 'One Step Beyond' or something more ska? If anyone goes in expecting a dose of 2-Tone nostalgia, they'll surely be disappointed, but if they're looking for the slick, sweet irreverent pop that they found their voice on with 'Absolutely' and 'Rise & Fall', it's a superb treat. Provided, I'd take the original 80s cuts over 'Folgate', but I would still consider it a rewarding listening experience for anyone who enjoys 80s pop.

Good thing they cut back on the ska, too, considering their 2005 return-to-ska cover album 'The Dangerman Sessions' was absolutely awful. I had way too many unpleasant flashbacks to 'Today's Specials' while listening to that one.

Problematiclogic (March 2, 2010)

ignore my blatant misquoting there.

Problematiclogic (March 2, 2010)

The band has been around since 1976, so for their 'spark to have dimmed' is hardly surprising. I think this is a great album though, totally different from anything else they've done and the concept gives it more substance too. They've never been much of a ska band since their first album anyway.

Oh, and the title track on this is utterly brilliant.

thirtyseconds (March 2, 2010)

I have absolutely no motivation whatsoever to check this out.

thirtyseconds (March 2, 2010)

I have absolutely no motivation whatsoever to check this out.

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