Madness - The Liberty of Norton Folgate

2009-10-09 09:49
The Liberty of Norton Folgate
Now cleaned up and commercialised, Suggs and the band felt what was once a docklands area of cultural diversity and party behaviour deserved a love letter in the form of this charming concept album about a place – what's now the Whitechapel area but which was once self-governing Norton Folgate, a place liberated from the staid English rules governing the rest of London.

"We Are London" tours you from pubs to Chinatowns, from strip joints to drug dens – celebrating the inner-city diversity that's one of the modern town's major attractions. "Sugar and Spice" celebrates the universal power of young love, and "Forever Young" feels kinda like looking at old photos with a new friend. The chorus, "stay, forever young, don't you do, what I have done" manages to inject lines like "paradise lost and innocence gone" with humorous irony. Yes, it's still party music for intellectual snobs and pretentious lefties. Mos' def.

Madness still have that relaxing spirit that made their reliable beats and singable drinking songs such a favourite at digs parties in the 80s and 90s… remember "Our House" – it was a very, very, very fine house? But they've extended their style by weaving in the music of different cultures, representing different characters who immigrated to and lived in Norton Folgate. It's almost like they tried to write numbers for a big budget musical movie, but thankfully failed. They've also added some 21st century electrification and production richness that makes the unabashedly nostalgic tone of the tunes cutely dignified instead of sappy.

It's music to make you smile - if a little sadly, as music by old men about being young probably should. And it's wonderful to have Madness back both rejuvenated, yet practised and perfect. Listening to it makes me wonder whether more bands shouldn't wait until they're older, wiser and vaguely sober before making concept albums. Still, it remains to be seen whether or not TLONF will result in a revival of Madness' popularity beyond their British borders. It takes a lot more than a good album to save a band that faded into obscurity before even the Web could save them.
The 80s ska-pop sensations' new comeback is a concept album (yes, really!) that remembers a London melting pot of the past – a past that progress has almost erased.

What to read next: Kalahari

Ryan 2009/10/14 9:57 AM
Think you got your "Our house" mixed up ? Madness sang about "Our house in the middle of the street". Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young ?)sang about "Our house" being a very, very, very fine house. Now you know...
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.