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Madness - The Liberty of Norton Folgate

Madness, The Liberty of Norton Folgate

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THE ninth studio album by Madness has, by any standards, been a mammoth undertaking.

Almost three years in the making, it’s a concept album of epic ambition that was partly showcased at London’s Hackney Empire during a series of gigs in June 2008.

Lead singer Suggs hopes that it will help the ska act, whose name is still synonymous with hits such as Our House and Baggy Trousers, to be taken a little more seriously. And, in this critics’ mind, it does.

The Liberty of Norton Folgate is a hugely enjoyable listen that’s capable of whisking you off on an immense listening journey. It’s as fun, nutty and charming as you’d expect from a band like Madness, and as instrumentally layered… but it’s also deeply romantic and poignant at other points.

This is the sound of a band that feels clearly rejuvenated and determined to branch out.

Hence, easy crowd-pleasers such as the delightful NW5 evoke the memory of It Must Be Love while waltzing you along on a bed of strings, trumpets and piano loops (not to mention the LP’s most sing-along chorus).

And the epic likes of title track The Liberty of Norton Folgate demonstrate the true breadth of their ambition, mixing styles, instruments and ska sensibilities with Eastern European flavour to seamless effect.

At over 10 minutes, the latter could have run the risk of being hopelessly self-indulgent… but while it does threaten it at moments you should stick with it for the last half is a particular riot of energy and Eastern influence unlike anything you’ve probably heard from Madness before.

Further highlights come from the likes of Sugar And Spice, a spritely tale of modern life, the ska-heavy Dust Devil, which features a nice boy-girl vocal trade off and some smart stabs of brass, and That Close, a piano-heavy jig through a failed relationship.

Idiot Child and Africa, meanwhile, offer nice contrasts of style and expression – one taking on an intimate, if cheeky, view of a London kid, the other a sweeping tale of African dreaming and escape from the daily grind.

They say in life that all good things come to those who wait… whether Madness fan or not, The Liberty of Norton Folgate has certainly been worth the three-year wait.

Download picks: Sugar And Spice, NW5, The Liberty of Norton Folgate, Africa, Idiot Child, That Close

Track listing:

  1. Overture
  2. We Are London
  3. Sugar and Spice
  4. Forever Young
  5. Dust Devil
  6. Rainbows
  7. That Close
  8. MK II
  9. On The Town
  10. Bingo
  11. Idiot Child
  12. Africa
  13. NW5
  14. Clerkenwell Polka
  15. The Liberty of Norton Folgate