The Album List #42: Madness “The Rise And Fall”

They really were the silliest band ever.

Madness have never been considered an “album band”. They released so many classic singles, but their overall albums were ignored.  The Rise And Fall is a really great record from a really great band. I wish people took them seriously.

In the U.S., the band has always been treated as a novelty, if the deep affection for the song “Our House” is any indication.  “Our House” springs from this record, and remains their biggest Stateside hit. This album, though, was never released in the States. It’s a shame.

“Our House” is among the most perfect pop songs ever. A simple, catchy sing along chorus masks biting social commentary.  Madness were experts at this. A band with a renowned sense of humour (just watch the damn video), they were made for the video age. They weren’t pretty boys like Duran Duran, but they knew how to use the new medium to create an event. It has been said that a new Madness video was an event in the U.K. The band would comment on the classes while looking like a Monty Python sketch gone pop.

Make no mistake, though. This is not a lot of  sunshine and lollys on The Rise and Fall. The band take Thatcher’s Falkland policy to task on “Blue Skinned Beast”, “Mr. Speaker Gets The Word” tells of a frustrated civil servant who tells all. But most of the album is drenched in nostalgia laced with cynical class warfare. Only the Brits can be this snide and open about their classism. Whether it is the routine of a Sunday, or the life of a family in a terraced home in Croydon, they are unsentimental about it all.

Living in a part of the world that denies there is even a class system despite all evidence to the contrary distorts your view of rich and poor. I admire the desire of the British to overcome their history of class problems, but I am not as dismayed by their inability to shed all of it. There is an ability to move classes in the U.K., but also a wish to remain honest about your roots. I watch comedians and actors who grew up working class and the pride they show in their accents and rougher edges., or the middle class ones with their posher tones and frustrated commentary. The wealthy classes as always remain daft and amusing in their own right. But the U.K. has gotten to a point where they all talk about it with ease. It’s only when the country erupts in flames that you remember they still don’t talk about one thing- actual money.

Meanwhile, as a working class lass in Canada, in my thirties with three kids to feed and no husband, and at the age where I sit back and think about my life and my choices and what the hell am I doing, this album hits me harder than it did when I first heard it as a kid.   Whether it’s the loopy “Madness (It’s All In The Mind)”, with its Chas Smash lead vocal and slightly off-key quality talking about the perception one has with the odd, or the magnificent title track, with its memories and childlike piano, it is a strong set of songs that need you to pay attention, lest you ignore the little things. Exquisite attention to minor details pay off with great lyrics and great songs.

And then there is that damn saxophone. I clearly love saxophones in pop bands. Also, love the music hall piano touches. Just genius stuff musically from the guys.

Also, Madness played “Our House” on The Young Ones, which is a trillion types of awesome.

Madness has long been one of my favourite bands, and I am sad that they never got more than one/two hit status in America. It’s just more proof that I’m British at heart.



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