Monthly Archives: January 2016

BRING BACK THE KID

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Movements in music are always interesting – you didn’t need to have been a hippy or a punk to see the musical legacy their originators left. Without flower power, I doubt we would have reached psychedelia and that would probably not have got us to rock music. Punk spawned New Wave (both types). The list goes on.

The joy of musical movements is that they were inevitably a force for good – a cauldron of creative purpose; it may not have always worked but the vision was well-intentioned whether it was innovative or just a pastiche. It was always about moving forward.

There is one exception.

Step forward Steve Dahl – the instigator of the Disco Demolition Night in 1979 that started the “Disco Sucks” movement. A deliberate attempt to destroy a musical genre, that bordered on some kind of nasty phobic reaction. It was tinged with a kind of unstated puritanical anger that it is small wonder that it left the United States with nearly a decade of uninterrupted REO Speedwagon.

Chic meanwhile, couldn’t get arrested.

Yes – that’s right Chic, the band, everyone swears they now always loved.

So America be careful what you wish for…

In Britain and the rest of Europe we never really thought that Disco Sucked and it happily co-existed with its new wave, punk and metal counterparts in the charts for the next few years. And so it should come as no surprise that recently we should see two of the veritable legends of Disco – Nile Rogers and Giorgio Moroder brought back so encouragingly by French impressionists Daft Punk.

And to be feted so deservedly.

However, for me there is one more Disco Denizen who deserves a place in the Disco Pantheon, whose influence is far more reaching then you might actually realise.

I give you, Thomas August Darnell Browder.

Originally, while playing in his half-brother, Stony Browder’s band Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, they had had some success in the mid 70s with a particular glamorous kind of disco that mixed in jazz orchestration and forties styling that preceded later hits like Donna Summer’s “I Remember Yesterday” and Linda Clifford’s “If My Friends Could See Me Now”. It was intended to not just be a treat for the ears but the eyes as well. The height of glamour and hence, were regular fixtures at the legendary Studio 54 – famous of course, for refusing Chic admission and so inspiring the composition of “Le Freak”.

Despite the incredible vocals of Cory Daye, the band only lasted a couple of albums and August Darnell went off to become an in-house writer and producer at the influential Ze Records, home of Was (Not Was), Gichy Dan and the fantastic Mutant Disco compilations. Whilst these were interesting underground hits in New York, this body of “No-Wave” work was huge in London clubland and became very influential in style for many of what we would think of as New Romantic groups such as Spandau Ballet, Haircut 100 and even Duran Duran, as well as the burgeoning Brit-Funk scene.

In the midst of this, August established his own group which introduced elements of Dr Buzzard but also brought in more Carribbean, Funk, Soul into the already heady mix of the big band jazz sound with the disco beat. It was a quite an entourage of characters who came on board; the percussionist, Bongo Eddie (who sadly died recently while still being part of the band), the xylophone playing and comic foil Coati Mundi, a world class rhythm and horn section and of course the glamorous European ice queen backing vocalists, the Coconuts.

Darnell took on his own alter-ego – Kid Creole.

The sharpest wise guy and smoothest of operators – and from 1980-83 just about the hottest ticket in town. You might now think of them as something of a novelty but the Kid was one of the key influencers of all that was the scene in London and New York.

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But this was not just a band based on image, this was a definitive and ownable sound developed over two previous albums – the second of which “Fresh Fruit From Foreign Places” was the first of his more theatrical complete pieces and gained rave reviews, if not sales, everywhere. Meanwhile, live, their energetic performances had become the envy of the more staid competition and were greatly mimicked – check out UK Zoot revivalists and equally loveable Blue Rondo A La Turk.

And so came the second of “the search for Mimi” trilogy – Tropical Gangsters (known as Wise Guy in the US). Do not be fooled by the familiarity of the hits on this record, the Kid (a former English teacher) produced some of the sharpest and often satirical writing that puts so called more significant writers to shame. The fact that the beats and rhythms are hugely infectious – they are meant to be – does not diminish subject matter that covers illegitimacy, the rich/poor divide and a disdain for “Imitation”.

There are some surprisingly powerful themes here set to a wonderfully produced and performed concept of a group of characters washed up on a seeming tropical paradise of B’Dilli Bay – according to the sleeve ‘an island of sinners, ruled by outcasts where crime is the only passport and RACE MUSIC the only way out!’.

Kid Creole is as successful and engaging an alter-ego as Ziggy Stardust. The follow-ups may not have been as successful but this was a wonderfully astute and considered package that was jam-packed with characters and attitude, designed to take an underground sound into the stratosphere.

“I’m A Wonderful Thing, Baby” is almost the signature of the Kid – it has swagger, arrogance and jokes aplenty underpinned with a thumping bass line. And yet, though largely instrumental, “I’m Corrupt” presents the reverse view of the main character showing that Kid Creole had his tongue firmly in his cheek.

The fantastic duet with his then-wife and lead Coconut Adriana of “Loving You Has Made a Fool Out Of Me” has all the crackling interplay of an old Brook Benton & Dinah Washington recording from the early sixties. Each song builds the character of the entourage’s members with obviously “Stool Pigeon” the most famous – a song knocked out in six and a half minutes apparently.

Hachachacha…

However, it is the three standouts of “Annie I’m Not Your Daddy” (to date the only hit single to feature the word onomatopoeia in it’s lyrics) “Imitation” and “No Fish Today” that really have the sharpest and most acerbic writing – not something you normally think of in Disco and yet you’d be surprised…

This was truly the hottest album of the time – do not be misled. Pop fans loved it; club cognoscenti loved it; the reviewers loved it. This album had extraordinary attention to detail in its presentation, its writing, its look, its arrangement and its production which left a performance that is truly electrifying still.

Obviously, I have stuck with Kid Creole throughout his career, both as writer and producer, and have loved much of his later unheralded work – including a collaboration with Prince and the exceptional “My Male Curiosity” from the otherwise abysmal “Against All Odds” soundtrack.

I still believe, if I could be a popstar, I would want to be Kid Creole.

However, never did August Darnell’s star burn more brightly than it did with this scene-setter and so nothing ever caught the imagination the way this did in Spring and Summer of 1982. And it is its timely effervescence that made the success so bright and therefore so unfairly ephemeral – it caught the mood and its influences in a perfect storm and so the band could never quite do it again.

“Tropical Gangsters” was joyful, clever and never lost its Disco sensibilities.

C’mon Daft Punk… bring back the Kid.

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A HALF TON FOR TAMLA

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Here’s something that may surprise you – Tamla Motown is a British invention.

That’s right… British!

Don’t worry, this isn’t some kind of warped revenge for the US takeover of the “Saving Private Ryan” story and claiming it as Tom Hanks’s own. Both Tamla and Motown were very much the brainchild of Berry Gordy but as the success of their records took off – much of it through the promotion of the British Invasion bands (particularly the Beatles) – the Tamla Motown Appreciation Society led by Dave Godin in the UK (with a whopping 300 members in 1965) gave EMI the inspiration for branding all of Gordy’s releases outside the US under the Tamla Motown name.

And it was, according to Jon Savage’s excellent new book “1966 – The Year The Decade Exploded”, then, fifty years ago, that Motown or Tamla Motown began to transform itself into  the worldwide phenomenon it still rightly remains today, with 22 singles hitting the US Top 20 alone.

Of all their major acts, I have tended to like The Supremes least of all. They didn’t possess the rugged styling of Jr Walker, the genuine soul of The Temptations or the wizardry of Marvin Gaye. I found most of their singles – especially the earlier ones – too saccharine, too pop if you will. I always felt that Martha Reeves and The Vandellas and The Marvelettes had a far more genuine earthier sound.

So it was interesting to dig around in  this recently remastered fifty year old album because it’s an odd confection containing their two big hits of the time “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart” and then a variety of cover versions of the day – most of them from Motown, originally penned for other acts.

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Let’s start with the singles because “Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart” is probably my favourite of all the Supremes 45s. It’s less well known but has a bite and interest that “Baby Love” for instance simply doesn’t. It also possesses the most astonishingly thunderous Funk Brothers rhythm track; here, demonstrated in a spliced version that spotlights the instrumental intro.

“You Can’t Hurry Love” is a genuine Motown masterpiece that even Phil Collins couldn’t ruin despite his best efforts. Both singles have a little more of the familiar Motown drive and punch that was prevalent on songs like “Get Ready” by the Temptations which is one of the covers included incidentally.

It is interesting to hear Motown arrangements of other Motown favourites and it is fair to say that Diana Ross’s vocal range is showed off and highlighted in the remastering process that demonstrate a far more soulful approach than I have normally considered her to have had. This is particularly true on the cover of the early classic “Money” – it seemed to have less of the knowingness of the original but more of the freneticism of the then well-known Beatles version from ’64.

Many of the covers are from Holland-Dozier-Holland’s catalogue who usually wrote for the Supremes but also the Four Tops and it is their songbook that features most with “I Can’t Help Myself” and “Baby I Need Your Loving”. Here as with “Get Ready” and “This Old Heart Of Mine”, it is difficult for the silkier style of the Supremes to stand up to the muscular vocals of Ronald Isley or David Ruffin and particularly the mighty Levi Stubbs but in changing her range and pitch, Diana does give it a good go though it doesn’t really bring anything new to the versions.

However, I would go so far as to say that “Shake Me Wake Me” was given to the wrong act. I love the Four Tops version but the Supremes version has a vulnerability that seems more appropriate and highlights what a good song it was. Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops was never a man who sounded as if neighbours would dare to talk about him, after all.

Likewise, the Elgins “Put Yourself In My Place” is an often overlooked Motown belter that is also improved by the Supremes more stylised and recognisable treatment – it shows the power of the writing on the track.

“Come And Get These Memories” is interesting because it is Mary Wilson taking lead and the sound is therefore more raw but less remarkable. Of the two non-Motown covers “These Boots Are Made for Walking” is the more successful bringing more swing than the original but in doing so loses a little of its dominance.

Interestingly, both “It’s Not Unusual” and “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” were considered for inclusion but it may be again that the strong vocal styles would be too much for the band to carry off without lapsing into parody.

It is a fascinating recording all in all because it shows that Diana Ross was probably as interesting a vocal stylist as her male counterparts and certainly brave enough to try to emulate them. There are definitely inflections of Stevie Wonder. She manages to bring a passion that is normally clouded by the frothier nature of her material.  There are no ballads or slower numbers here it is simply an LP that will have been put on for the burgeoning Disc-O-Theque scene and caught fire around the world – a concept album, I suppose.

Motown is a wonderful gift for all music lovers and this concept album which was the first all-female album to reach #1 in the States, is certainly worth listening to as an active demonstration of the Detroit organisation at the very height of its powers.

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THE MAN WHOM THE EARTH FELL FOR

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It would take a strong man not to be moved by the sudden and tragic loss of David Bowie. It doesn’t matter whether you owned one of his records or not at some stage, something you’ve listened to and enjoyed has been affected by his genius.

I never knew him and never met him so I can’t write a glowing personal tribute to him because he is The Shimmering Spaceman and I am, by comparison, mud-caked and earthbound.

This blog has chosen as its theme to champion interesting but perhaps forgotten works – but how you do that with the Bard of Bromley. It would be inappropriate to look back at one of the bizarre sixties recordings and simply insincere to attempt to see Tin Machine through rose tints, for a man who, at the time, had deliberately set out to polarise.

What is there to say about “Ziggy Stardust” or “Aladdin Sane” that you won’t be thinking already? If you’re an 80s kid then “Let’s Dance” will have plenty of memories for you. I have friends who stand solidly by “Diamond Dogs” or “Heroes” and to start championing “Blackstar” so early would be bandwagon-jumping that his legend does not deserve.

So I return, as I often have when I’m in the mood for Bowie, to the (to my mind) most unusual of his mainstream albums – Station to Station – recorded in 1975 in Los Angeles, although Bowie himself forgot he was ever there, in a blizzard of cocaine.

It was intended initially to be the soundtrack for the incredible “The Man Who Fell To Earth”.  The fragility in the character of  Thomas Jerome Newton ended up reflecting Bowie’s own, and the soundtrack subsequently fell away.

He may have forgotten but the rest of us cannot forget the introduction of The Thin White Duke. Pale, arrogant and immaculately tailored.

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The album is a very definite bridge point between the soul of “Young Americans” and the clinical experimentation of the upcoming Berlin Trilogy and the title track “Station To Station” is the epitome of this particular musical junction.

It opens with the swirling of train tracks from speaker to speaker and then sets off on a slow march flanked by Earl Slick’s distorted guitar before the song builds and then switches into a mini-opera of its own – it’s like a mid 70s “Excerpts From A Teenage Opera” and real Bowie fans will get that particular reference.

“Golden Years” is as funky as anything Bowie ever recorded and this is long before he met Nile Rogers. It’s a shame that one of our memories of it is the clearly out-of-it singer lip-syncing on SoulTrain but it cannot take away the sheer exuberance of the record.

We’re two tracks in and he’s influenced every great New Romantic or Electronic 45 of the early 80s from “Planet Earth” to “Promised You A Miracle” via “Enola Gay”.

“Word On A Wing” has been called Bowie’s cry for help during this period and it certainly has an almost gospel quality about its performance but allied with a languidness which can perhaps undermine its heartfelt vocal and diminish its effect. It definitely harks back to his earlier Scott Walker fetish however.

“TVC 15” seems to owe most to the movie soundtrack and definitely reflects the scene of Newton lodged in front of all the TV screens. It is another great funky upbeat number with a rolling piano groove and was a wonderful if surprising opener for Bowie’s epic Live Aid performance.

That said, I have little or no idea what it’s all about…

The groove is picked up in “Stay” which is another of his forgotten epics that combines drive and tenderness – this really is an album of opposites and contradictions. But all wondrously cool.

Which leaves the very best until last – “Wild Is The Wind”.

You will undoubtedly argue with me but I think this is his finest ever vocal performance. It is powerful yet delicate; it is frail and moving. It will let you remember just what a detailed and unique vocalist he was.

In the end, I am pleased I have written something about David Bowie. There are songs like “The Prettiest Star” and “Everyone Says Hi” which have moved me close to tears in the aftermath of the terrible news but it is Station to Station that for me sums up all that we shall miss about David Bowie.

It is Bowie at his most delightfully enigmatic. It is accessible and impenetrable. It is soulful and experimental. It is funky and it is obscure.

It has moments of the most incredible beauty.

And so, of course, did he.

David Bowie in Nicolas Roeg's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976). Courtesy Rialto Pictures/StudioCanal.

WHERE’S THE KNIGHTHOOD? PART II

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So since the end of 1982 and the release of “The Rise And Fall”, the history of Madness takes several strange U-turns and tangents. There’s the sad demise of 1986 after another couple of interesting albums, the melancholic farewell single and a failed return as The Madness  that seemed another ill-fated attempt to be regarded as serious artistes.

All of which seemed to further cement the notion that they were a band out of time.

Then, out of the blue in 1992, a new compilation comes out – on the back of “It Must Be Love” being a surprise top 10 reissue hit around Valentine’s Day – and sells by the ton. The nation falls in love with Madness again and they cause an earthquake in Finsbury Park during the first Madstock.

But really they have become a nostalgia act – much loved but really just playing all those hits you remember. Getting together in the summers and every christmas,  everyone loves it.

They do make a new album in 1999 (“Wonderful”) which has the excellent “Lovestruck” and their old pal, Ian Dury’s final performance on “Drip Fed Fred”. It sells quite well but more out of love for the old days, as does a covers album, five years later.

In between, Suggs becomes a TV celebrity, “House Of Fun” becomes a successful West End musical and the band tour every year giving a grateful public a chance to relive their wonder years. However, the band all have side projects and are a little in and out of the line-up as they seem still slightly frustrated at the lack of seriousness with which they are held. Sure they make money but tracing back to “The Rise And Fall” their greatest efforts as musicians and songwriters seem permanently eclipsed by their incredible run of single success and subsequent public affection.

So they get back together and spend three years in a the studio with their old producers, Langer & Winstanley, and in 2009 (ten years since their last original release and twenty three since their first farewell) release the truly astounding album, “The Liberty Of Norton Folgate”.

Ok – this release did not pass completely unnoticed and there were sales and some very highly rated live performances but this album is of the very highest quality and should be consistently acclaimed as such. A panegyric to their hometown, London, filled with characters from childhood, from history and the backstreets of Kentish Town. It feels like the Threepenny Opera – a world of petty criminals, abandoned children, lost loves and party animals throw together in a Dickensian stew.

To commence, we are given an “Overture” – almost to signify the importance of what you are about to hear – and then the scene-setting “We Are London”. It immediately lets the listener know that they are on a tour of the less salubrious routes of the capital and the band are going to make sure that you love every inch of it.

Some of the songs feel as if they have used the experience of the “House Of Fun” musical to lyrically tell stories quickly – although this skill has always been one of the real virtues of Madness recordings. “Sugar And Spice” and “NW5” certainly have the bittersweet pre-interval feel of the West End.

However, it is the ability to construct a sound that looks to the past, is undoubtedly Madness and yet feels very contemporary that is the undoubted strength of this work. “Forever Young” is perhaps the best example a ska-like feel allied to a killer piece of guitar and sax play-off. A typically catchy melody however, hides a much darker refection on the passage of time – reminiscent of some of “The Rise And Fall”.

“That Close” also has a wistful reminiscence that seems to trace its roots back to the previously mentioned classic, and again with the kind of melody hooks that feel like you’ve known the song forever. In comparison, “Dust Devil” – the tale of a West End party girl – sounds bang up to date; check out the excellent Jamie Winstone video.

It is difficult to single out favourites on this album as it frankly has so many highlights but I do like the slightly manic duet “On The Town” with ex- Bodysnatcher, Rhoda Dakar, who now has the privilege of recording duets with both Madness and The Specials. Again it has the qualities of a song from a musical, driving narrative and building characters brilliantly.

And this is matched by “Idiot Child” – a poignant childhood self-portrait from sax player Lee Thompson and perhaps the prequel to “Calling Cards” – that captures the paradox of being angry and optimistic at the same time. Mike Barson’s driving keys once more propel the song to give you a real sense of the story presented.

By the time we reach the closing straight of the album, you might have thought a band so long away from recording would be running out of steam but we are about to embark on the most thrilling part of the album. We have the dreamy and quite beautiful “Africa” filled with the promise of a break from the mundanity of everyday metropolitan existence – “Itchycoo Park” for our times.

But the whole album’s raison d’être culminates in the epic review of London past present and future in “NW5” (a song that already sounds like a Madness classic), “Clerkenwell Polka” – which could come from a New Orleans jazz band – and ultimately, the astounding “Liberty Of Norton Folgate”.

It feels like a meander through the back-alleys of darkest London through the ages – it is Dickens, the Krays, Ripper Street and the lunacy of Bedlam.

We have vaudeville, bluebeat, music-hall, jazz, Beatlesque orchestration (think “Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite) all competing for mastery that is uniquely London and uniquely Madness. It boasts beautifully constructed lyrics that can come only from a genuine love and passion for the subject.

It is adorable.

I defy you not to enjoy this album. It is jam-packed with a hundred well-drawn stories with as many equally crafted characters and played with dexterity and imagination throughout. There is an intelligence in this record that only a handful of pop recordings are capable of producing. It feels as if they created this as if their lives depended upon it.

If you’ve come this far with me, their love for London will cause you to look up what “The Liberty Of Norton Folgate” actually was, so I won’t spoilt it for you but its history very much drives the cohesion of the whole album. It feels sometimes almost cinematic – “Mk II” was definitely written with Stanley Baker-like film noir in mind – other times hugely intimate and always in character with the Madness brand. There is humour, there is optimism and equally there is introspection and there are politics.

But ultimately there is love. It is crafted with tons of it. For London, for their fans and for each other. That can be the only reason that would possess them to come back after so long and produce this unbelievably well-crafted piece.

Let’s not forget that all the band wrote for this album (as they always did) but there are no unsightly joins. It is seamlessly constructed. Perhaps the reason for this is just the supremely high quality of the musicianship.

And for that we must also single out just what a fine singer Suggs has become. Sure, there are those with more far-reaching vocal range but his is a voice that is instantly recognisable, knows what its best at doing and maintains the character and narrative of the piece throughout. Ably assisted by some often under-valued harmonies from the rest of the band particularly Cathal Smyth (as he now wishes to be referred).

It is a record that will make you feel sometimes positive, sometimes reflective and sometimes nostalgic but ultimately it leaves me feeling elated.

I feel privileged that Madness came back to us and delivered a second and even finer masterpiece.

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WHERE’S THE KNIGHTHOOD? PART I

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The summer of 2012 seemed to grant “national treasure” status to Madness. We are meant to feel about them as if they were Stephen Fry or David Beckham. After all, there they were playing at the Olympics and at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, as representatives of all that was good-natured and buoyant about ordinary everyday Britain.

And of course, we all recall school discos descending into mayhem at the opening bell of “Baggy Trousers” as fourth years raced around like toddlers fed too much banana, dragging even those too cool to dance onto the floor. Crowds of teens doing the nutty dance to “One Step Beyond” inevitably followed and the whole shebang ended with a mighty pile-on for “House Of Fun”.

Small wonder they were one of the most successful singles bands of all time and are viewed with such affection by their legions of fans. And every christmas, they all – and I can count myself among them – troop happily along to be entertained by a back catalogue that never fails to entertain.

Nobody doesn’t like Madness – national treasures indeed.

BUT…

And it’s a big BUT…

This only scratches the surface of a band and their catalogue that really should have a far stronger musical reputation than creators of the most entertaining promos and the nation’s happiest conga line. This was a band where all seven members wrote songs; where the arrangements became ever more detailed and the subject matter continually more reflective and hard-hitting.

They were so much more than a flying saxophone player.

And 1982’s “The Rise And Fall” is the centrepiece (at least during the main part of their recording career) of my assertion. It is a rich and varied recording packed with social and political comment as well as humour and wry observations about what it was to be  younger and what it feels like to be growing older.

The roots of the sound might be ska – just – but this as varied a pop  album as Sgt Pepper. Brass bands appear on “Primrose Hill” (there is a version of them performing on the Tube with the Washington Miners Welfare Band would you believe) and strings pop up on “Our House”, of course, but there are influences of Rock n Roll, Bluebeat, Jazz and Music Hall melded together throughout.

London may provide the backdrop to much of the album but it does not make this some cockney knees-up. Indeed, the title track “Rise And Fall” was written about Liverpool in the aftermath of the Toxteth Riots of the previous year. Admittedly, Colney Hatch Lane and the Old Kent Road are not necessarily locations known to many but it is the characters that Madness draw – many from the band’s childhood experiences – that make this such a universal album.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on their biggest worldwide hit “Our House”. Of course, we can all sing along to it and know every word and key change (and there’s plenty of them) as if it were a nursery rhyme.  It is about everybody’s childhood everywhere in the world. It also has fantastic hooks, a great guitar solo and wonderful revving bass slides that make it a perfect 45.

What is most important to remember is that this was 1982 and we were barely three years from Punk’s winding up, 18 months from “Ghost Town” and even Madness’s own work was exhibiting an introspection and world-weariness. This is Madness’s own “All You Need Is Love” – the sentiment is one you can’t argue with whatever your demographic. Nobody was writing songs like this at the time.

Indeed the kind of homely memory is also played back in “Sunday Morning” but the childhood recollections of “Calling Cards” whilst humorous are darker. “Blue-Skinned Beast” is an angry attack on the then current Falklands War which would surprise those who were expecting more of “Driving in My Car”, with its bitter political undercurrents.

There are also hugely introspective moments such as “That Face” and “Are You Coming With Me” but perhaps the most reflective and world-weary song comes in the form of the second hit, “Tomorrow’s Just Another Day”. On the bonus disc, there is the version that came from the single’s 12″ where the band back Elvis Costello on the same song.

Here, you will definitely pick out the more downbeat element of the lyrics which the typically fun video would never allow you to dwell upon. The band dressed up as oversized plants and garden gnomes after all.

However, we should never lose sight of the fact that Elvis Costello could wring melancholy out of “The Sun Has Got His Hat On”.

Perhaps it was recording in George Martin’s studio that drove the band to be so expansive in the scope of the album. The keyboards of Mike Barson seem to have bouncing Beatlesque phrases throughout and his composition  “New Delhi” could easily be Ringo’s account of his ill-fated trip to meet the Maharishi. Certainly, the desire to experiment fuels the whole enterprise, with tracks like “Primrose Hill” and “Mr Speaker” at the forefront.

Barely, 8 months before Madness had released “House Of Fun” which gave them their only UK number one and this was swiftly followed by the bucketload-shifting compilation “Complete Madness” and then the juvenile “Driving In My Car”. With “The Rise And Fall” it is almost as if the band very consciously decided to put away childish things and develop something far more musically permanent, which was reflective of their mood having produced and performed solidly, month in month out for three years.

To my mind, they did.

This record is as much about the living soul of England as the now critically lauded “We Are The Village Green Preservation Society” by the Kinks or indeed Blur’s “Parklife”. Yet although it did sell – as Madness always did – “The Rise And Fall” does not have the place in people’s hearts that these other two have – it is an immensely satisfying record even now and deserves to be.

The closing track, the bluesy “Madness Is All In The Mind” –  a North London version of Louis Jordan – seems to indicate clearly that they believe their video persona is just that – a phantom; they were much deeper than that and wanted everybody to know.

The band produced two more increasingly fractured but fascinating albums after this before they sadly split in 1986. Tensions had grown in a band that had seemed like the friendliest gang you could ever meet and it feels like the lack of real appreciation for this album marks the start of their fade-out.

Madness knew they had produced something special but outside their regular fans, it did not seem to hit the intended mark of leaving an important music legacy in a complete recording. Even the front cover, naturally shot on Primrose Hill, with all of the band dressed to enact one of the album’s songs, seemed to signify their awareness of the delightful unity of “The Rise And Fall”.

The incredible thing about this most under-rated gaggle of songwriters and performers is that despite this obvious disappointment, they managed to create another superbly crafted story album all over again… completely out of the blue… over 25 years later.

End of part one…

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