Madness: The Liberty of Norton Folgate

By: Dennis Cook

The "Overture" the begins this ambitious and generally great new slab from England's Madness offers the mood of a great picture show firing up, a tale writ large about to unfold. The story is picked up immediately by the bouncing skip of "We are London," which provides the thematic underpinnings for The Liberty of Norton Folgate (arriving in the U.S. on September 29 on Yep Roc), a sort of love-hate letter to England's cultural capital that shows off the band's old charms and develops some swell new wrinkles, too.

Madness know how to write a great hook or five, but this time out they've stretched things a bit, venturing into jazzy codas and more somber acoustics. They seem ready and fully capable of complicating their formulas, like the vintage Two-Tone swing of "Forever Young" (not the Dylan tune), which Graham "Suggs" McPherson gives a crooner's ache that speaks of long views and a perspective from the other side of some serious living. Not a reach at all to call this set classy, and the whole band is playing with confidence and sophistication, able to jump from island hop to balladry and back around to dance floor sunshine.

So, the movie we get is a touch romantic, a touch cynical, a touch rugged and a touch tender. Added together, this may be their fullest, most thoughtful work ever, particularly the 10-minute title suite, which rivals The Who's early mini-symphonies in scope and playful energy. Kudos to Yep Roc for bringing this U.K. release to the States, yet another sign that this label has a wicked nose for serious talent wherever it may lie.

JamBase | Jolly
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[Published on: 9/15/09]

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