Madness is all in the Mind
4 Out Of 5 Stars
Madness madness never quite caught on in the US, despite the success of "Our House." having a huge base overseas fueled the band for decades, with trippy hit after hit. "Divine Madness" catches the singles in all their glory. There are quite a few compilations of Madness out there, but this one is the keeper.
Yes, it does have "Our House," and the classic introduction of the band in "One Step Beyond," but also the goofy coming of age songs "House Of Fun" and "Baggy Trousers." There are the unique ska-ish instrumentals like " The Return of the Los Palmas 7" and "Night Boat To Cairo." But there's something else in the method that happened with the band. Lurking under the pop veneer is often a somber note. Even the big hit "Our House" has a caveat in the chorus; "something tells me that you've got to get away from it." Not all was goofy in Madness' world.
As the band soldiered on, so did the world view. "Tomorrow's Just Another Day" was so melancholy in its tone that Elvis Costello slowed it down for a remake that wound up darker than the original. The rebuke of "Embarrassment" wouldn't have been out of place on a Costello album. But the exuberance always shines through. When it came time to do a cover song as single, they chose "It Must Be Love," British singer Labi Siffre's 1972 hit. (It was also the band's second and last single to crack the American Top 40, creaking up to a #33 peak.) It's a cheery declaration of devotion, and maybe the lease 'mad' song here.
Working through the band's catalog chronologically helps, too, as the band had two distinct periods. There was the manic early days and then a mature period that left the ska behind and concentrated more on pop. "Our House" is probably the divining point, because what follows is less frantic and more measured. You have "Michael Caine," featuring a cameo from the man himself. Describing the onlooker's desire to get close to an idol, it's also about disappointment. The lounge like sounding "Yesterday's Men" postulates getting older, and "(Waiting For The) Ghost Train" contemplates death and what comes next.
But all that is part of the complete band package. Those early singles still carry a manic punch, while the later days are more layered in their approach. If there was any other complete Madness, I don't know of it. "Divine Madness" packs it all in with a 22 song salute.