Though they seem to be the biggest thing since sliced bread over in England, if you ask nearly anyone in America about Madness, they will probably respond, “Oh, they are that poppy English band that did our house!” This is extraordinarily unfortunate, as they have quite a significant body of work, spanning various genres and being generally awesome. I know I was personally a bit surprised when I first realized their association to 2nd wave ska, but after I had finally been introduced to One Step Beyond, it was pretty obvious that any hype about them has been completely deserved.
They had a few less interesting releases in the few decades between their ska era and now, but with 2005’s Dangermen Sessions, they not only had brought back the ska, they also brought back to quality, reviving my excitement in the band. And if anyone knows me (though you wouldn’t know it from my posts on here), I am all about the ska, so it makes even more sense that I’d give such a hoot.
And then they come up with a sprawling concept album, bereft of ska (except for a few moments where it sort of seeps in the cracks) — and wouldn’t you know it, I like it even more. The Liberty of Norton Folgate is a fantastic piece of work, full of unexpected genre changes (pop, polka, rock?) and more energy than can strictly be accounted. And even if the thing was awful, the beautiful ten-minute-long title track alone would carry the record. Of course, it doesn’t have to, with tracks like On the Town and NW5.