Album Review : The Liberty Of Norton Folgate - Madness*****
Run for the hills ! It's a ska concept album ! What is it with concept albums at the moment, I have a slew of them on my i-pod at the moment from the grunge metal of Mastodon's slightly disappointing Crack The Skye, Kasabian's Victoriana inspired West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum and an almost return to great from from Queensryche on American Soldier, concept albums seem to be the in thing.
Madness pay homage to the places they grew up and lived in on thier concept effort, the Liberty of Norton Folgate was unitl 1921 a distinct administrative area bordering the City Of London, and its echoes live on in street and building names in the area.
This album, as befits an older Madness, isn't ruled by the up tempo funky ska that provided the band with so many of their big hit singles back in the 80's. Madness have matured, both as songwriters and musicians as they have grown older, in amongst the daftness they always had quite astute, anthropological lyrics, songs like House Of Fun contained threads of darkness and pain in amongst the catchy ska, this theme returns on Forever Young, a minor key paean to lost innocence and the pain of getting older.
The songs on Norton Folgate don't follow each other to create a continuous story, but instead they all paint little aural pictures of street scenes, occurrences and self contained stories set in the area. There are hints of other story telling songwriters on here, Ian Dury constructed similar lyrics in his own idiosyncratic style and The Kinks wouldn't have been upset to write Dust Devil, Mk II or Sugar And Spice.
Suggs does seem to talk his way through the album in parts, but his distinctive vocal style has always been an important part of the band's overall style, and the ska combination of guitars, keyboard and brass combines well, played with subtlety and clever style throughout.
A real treasure awaits right at the end of the fifteen track album, with the penultimate track being the delightfully eccentric Clerkenwell Polka providing a real change of style on the album before making way for Madness's 10 minute masterpiece from which the album takes its name, The Liberty Of Norton Folgate takes us on a walk around, we visit the markets and meet the rich ethnic mix of the people that currently inhabit this tiny area of the capitol as the band move through a variety of musical styles as they proclaim their love for the area, its people, and their wish for peace and tolerance to hold sway.
It is a great album, possibly the best album the Nutty Boys have put out in their 30 year career, really, its that good, it has great songs that perhaps requite a little more listening to get them into your your head than Driving In My Car did, but this is the middle aged Madness, and they're a more complex and interesting beast than they were back at the beginning, and more fulfilling for that.