Album Review: Madness – The Liberty Of Norton Folgate

by Tony Butterworth on August 11, 2009

MadnessThe Nutty boys are back with a vengeance but can you really be as nutty almost 35 years after you started out and when you approach 50?  I think I bought every Madness single for around five years but, interestingly, I don’t think I ever bought an album. Now here they are, 20+ years later with all seven original members intact, with an album that has a theme if not a full-on concept, all in celebration of London. Read on for the skinny on Madness’ The Liberty Of Norton Folgate.

From the first “na-na-na’s” of “We Are London,” I am once again hooked by Suggs’ voice. As he name checks all the places I remember from the city I am simply drawn in. Next up is “Sugar and Spice,” I’m never good with lyrics but this seems to be telling a tale of young love and marriage. “Forever Young” has a slow ska bounce, kind of a middle aged version on the sound Madness mastered in the 80’s. “Dust Devil” brings us back to the choir chorus stomper style I prefer.

“Rainbows” is perhaps the closest song to the classic sound of the latter day 80’s Madness. By the time the 7th song “That Close” comes on, you’re starting to realize that these songs are sounding familiar. Each one alone is interesting but played back to back there’s a certain sameness to them, stomping choruses with saxophone accents. “MKII” slows things down a bit but really the change is only subtle. “On The Town” does throw us some variety featuring female vocals during the chorus, from Rhoda Darker from the classic Two Tone band The Bodysnatchers. It’s only a blip though.

Track 10, “Bingo,” starts with that classic Madness plunking piano sound then drops into the ska, dub beat again (this is not my favorite style of music.) It’s almost a repeat of “Forever Young,” it sounds like the same song. “Idiot Child” is another classic Madness sound, even down to the sound of the piano being frighteningly similar to one of their older tunes.

“Africa” begins with a bird song and a train whistle–this one actually varies the formula–once again a dub sound but a slightly different beat and some strings add to the interest. This track definitely breaks up the developing monotony of the rest of the album but can’t really be called a great song in its own right. “NW5” is next, I have to admit when listening to the full album I’m starting to get rather bored by this point. The production is samey and somewhat bland, lacking sparkle and this is just another song with banging piano, Suggs vocals and saxophone. The fast-forward button is getting used at this point, looking for something different. Sadly I don’t find it with “Clerkenwell Polka,” more of the same, with a little variety as it speeds up towards the end.

The title track is a 10 minute epic.  It starts out as something of a waltz with a spoken story lyrical approach. It changes style a number of times and could easily have been more than one song. I think it’s trying to say something lyrically but I can’t figure out what it is. I’m not really sure what they were aiming for and hence I cannot confirm if they succeeded or not.

This is meant to be a full blooded celebration of London. I actually have the special edition which adds 7 songs, all sounding kind of the same. I often say this but when I’m listening in random play mode I’ll be glad to hear some of these songs but back-to-back it all gets rather boring rather quickly. Madness were always a singles band, releasing a new one every 3 months or so in the 80’s. I loved them, but, as I said at the start, I don’t think I ever owned an album.  I think I’m starting to see why. They have a habit of making what is basically the same song with small lyrical and musical variations.  That song is good but I’ve heard it before.

The Liberty Of Norton Folgate will be released on August 18th in the US.

Watch the video for “The Liberty Of Norton Folgate”

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