Welcome to the final Music Monday of the series and the third and final album of the three that utterly dominated my listening as a young teen: Divine Madness.
Madness are one of those acts that I was probably aware of a lot longer than I necessarily realise. Songs like Our House, Wings of a Dove, Driving in My Car and House of Fun were very much part of the general backdrop of life – I can’t say that I heard them play on the radio or anything specific like that and yet somehow I knew them word for word. So when Divine Madness fell into my lap, some of it wasn’t exactly new to me, but it focussed my attention…
…and took me into a genre of music that I’d otherwise not really come across before: ska.
I was far too young to have known the 2 Tone revival when it was happening, but Divine Madness gave me a glimpse into it and what I heard I definitely liked the sound of. Of course, I had the same problem here as I would do a few years later with trying to find more stuff like Robert Miles’ Children: with no Spotify, I was stuck with what the radio played, what MTV showed and any information I could dig up in the library about who’d actually been involved so it would be a while before I really got to listen to bands like The Selector and The Specials (and there’s something particularly poignant writing this Music Monday in the wake of Terry Hall’s passing).
At least I had Madness!
And there was (is!) much more to them than just the ska introduction. They were also the band that introduced me to well-observed lyrics and the concept of writing about something beyond the normal stuff you hear in the charts. They wrote songs about the sort of life that I was familiar with. School days (Baggy Trousers), family (Our House, Embarrassment), the working grind (Grey Day), relationships (My Girl). Uncle Sam is a three minute skewering of American imperialism (and if you didn’t get that from the track title and lyrics, the video makes it very clear!), while Michael Caine is a pretty dark take on paranoia that was semi-inspired by the Michael Caine film The Ipcress File (hence the title).
It’s not all serious, of course. Not even my imagination can turn Nightboat to Cairo into anything other than a 3 minute piece of fun and silliness – which is definitely not a criticism, because you need the fun stuff to balance out the more meaningful things (which is, for me, where some of Madness’ more recent stuff has gone wrong – though maybe I need to dip into that again). It’s also worth noting that, out of all the stuff I got to hear them play when I saw them in concert a couple of years after Divine Madness came out, Nightboat to Cairo and One Step Beyond are the songs that stick out because they’re tracks made for dancing, and boy did we dance!
Overall, then, this album was a great introduction (or reintroduction) to the group and I went on to get (and love) all their original albums. It also led me to much more of the 2 Tone/Ska Revival and to some of the original Ska acts, like Prince Buster (whose song Madness the band took their name from and who the band wrote their first single, The Prince, in tribute to).
And with that, this short series is now complete. Music Monday will now go on hiatus until March(ish) when the Ved’ma section of the Elsehere Soundtrack will start posting. (err, Ved’ma drafting willing, of course…)
Until then, happy listening and reading!