Madness: Complete Madness (Union Square/Triton)

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Madness: One Step Beyond
Madness: Complete Madness (Union Square/Triton)

When the so-called "2 Tone Revolution" appeared in Britain in the late Seventies/early Eighties -- ska music, white shirts and black suits -- of all the bands in the vanguard, Madness seemed the least likely to go the distance against the serious intentions of the Specials and more pop-politics of The Beat.

Madness -- the self-styled Nutty Boys -- seemed a bit lightweight in that company, and yet their chipper music belied their biting social commentary which really hit a nerve. And Madness stayed in for the long haul: they ran up a string of albums which sprung major or minor hits, and their cheery videos endeared them to a generation.

Vocalist Suggsy's unashamed Cockney accent and their two-up two-down suburban concerns anticipated The Streets by a couple of decades: they sang of football, trouble with girlfriends and family, and over time their hard ska sound mellowed to deal with more adult matters. They enjoyed huge hits and endured line-up changes, and they seemed to be perennially smiling.

This 16 song, non-chronological reissue of the '82 album can't quite live up to its title -- no Our House or the later singles obviously -- but it adequately sketches out the ground of their early sound and comes with a booklet which includes comments by various band members on each track in microscopic print.

Madness were a fun band (Night Boat to Cairo) but they knew where their music had come from (the thunderous cover of Prince Buster's One Step Beyond) and brought something uniquely English to the party (My Girl).

They are still around (they've done a few reunions and re-formations since their break-up in the late Eighties) but here is where you come for a sampling of their earlier work. According to the liner notes, the Union Square label will be reissuing all the original albums (sign up for One Step Beyond and The Rise and Fall) as well as box sets.

The ska-revival revival starts here. Again. 

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