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Miscellaneous - Madness 'Absolutely'

  by Fiona Hutchings

published: 7 / 7 / 2009

Miscellaneous - Madness 'Absolutely'


In our 'Soundtrack of Our Lives' column, in which our writers write about the personal impact of music on their lives, new writer Fiona Hutchings tells of first hearing Madness' second album 'Absolutely' as a fifteen year old

From 'E.R.N.I.E', the wanna be winner to a 'Close Escape' from 'On The Beat Pete', 'Absolutely' by Madness is a breathless non-stop rollercoaster record. Released in 1980 the Nutty Boys second album reached number 2 in the UK and contained 3 singles, 'Baggy Trousers', 'Embarrassment' and 'Return of the Los Palmas 7'. Madness are Graham 'Suggs' Mcpherson (vocals), Mike 'Monsieur Barso' Barson (piano), Lee 'El Thommo' Thompson (saxophonist), Chris 'Chrissy Boy' Foreman (guitar), Mark 'Bedders' Bedford (bass), Daniel 'Woody' Woodgate (drums) and Carl 'Chas Smash' Smyth (vocals, trumpet and pogo dancer). Fourteen years later it was the first Madness album I bought, the third album I owned and the one that saw me through the ups and downs of my final year in school as a somewhat confused and angsty 15 year old. I had bought 'Q' magazine a month or so before because it came with a free 80's CD. Imagine my surprise when I got it home to find a track list including Skid Row, a Human League track that wasn't 'Don't You Want Me' and Scritti Politi rather than the bubble gum pop I had expected. Still a CD was a CD and I popped it on my stereo and gave it a listen. One track really stood out - 'Our House' by Madness which wasironically not on this album. I was hooked. It sort of stuck in my head straight away and the jaunty almost music-hall tune was slightly but wonderfully at odd with the much darker lyrics about the almost suffogating but also comforting reality of suburbia. My older brother (possibly fed up of hearing it on repeat) suggested I check out the greatest hits compilation 'Divine Madness' (my second ever CD) and a full blown love affair with ska, nuttiness and pogoing was born. It seemed an obvious next step to set about saving my merge Saturday job earnings and purchasing the entire back catalogue. There isn't a Madness album I dislike but 'Absolutely' is the gem in the pack. A little less self conscious than their 1979 debut 'One Step Beyond', less bitter and angst-ridden than their later albums, 1982's 'Rise and Fall' and 1985's 'Mad Not Mad', its lyrics paint personal but somehow universally accessible tales of school days, unwanted pregnancies, conscription be it into national service or your own local gang. For me this was music I had discovered myself. It wasn't current, it wasn't that popular at that point (although Madness heavily influenced many bands starting to emerge around that time and a little later such as No Doubt and Smash Mouth) and it was mine. Much to my mother's horror I had a number 2 buzz cut and purchased some very nice (very big) Doc Martin boots. In many ways I found my identity in this music. There are seven very different personalities in the band and, as they all contributed to the music and the lyrics, it is understandable that there is quite a mix of styles from the cocktail bar in the wild west sound of instrumental 'Return of The Los Palmas 7' to the jaunty piano heavy ditty 'You Said'. The latter is the most adolescent of the tracks -"You said you're leaving/well that's OK/You said you've had enough/ What can I say?/ I suppose I'll be sad for a day or two." You can pretty much imagine Suggs flippantly breaking some poor rude girl's heart. The album features a total of fourteen songs. For me the stand out track is 'Embarrassment' which charted at number 4 and was darker than some of the other songs both musically and lyrically. Written by Lee Thompson it was inspired by the news of his younger sister's unplanned pregnancy. His family did not take the news at all well, more so because the father was a black man. Thompson pieced the story together through snatches of conversations and this is reflected in the lyrics. Aunt, uncle, even mum and dad "don't wanna know." The piano is heavy and thumping, reminiscent of slamming doors while the sax solo sounds wailing and rejected. The album also opened my eyes and ears to Madness' contemporaries, the Specials, the Selecter, the Beat and and the politics of the time the album was recorded. So it seems fitting that Madness (and the Specials) are on the rise again as we see unrest around the country and in Parliament not dissimilar to the late 70's and the early 80's. Often over looked despite their undoubted success, dismissed as Cockney wideboys by critics who were distracted by the tune and never listened to the lyrics, Madness are back for their 30th year with a new album, 'The Liberty Of Norton Follgate' and have stormed Glastonbury complete with a flying saxophonist. Chipmunks, it seems, are still go.

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Miscellaneous - Madness 'Absolutely'

Miscellaneous - Madness 'Absolutely'

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