Sure, you could blame Madness for a lot of things – skinheads, skanking, the School Disco revival, the Suggs ‘comeback’, The Ordinary Boys…- but it’s difficult to deny that theirs is one of the more enjoyable chapters in the history of British pop music. Whilst the most recent of indie revivals have involved digging up old post-punkers and revering them like they’re some sort of mythological entity, it’s the downbeat knees-up of the Nutty sound and its 9-to-5-dodging eccentricity that’s lost out in this borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered Eighties. Considering the popularity and versatility of their songwriting over the past few decades it seems that, even though they’re generally regarded about as rock n’ roll as still needing to sleep with a security blanket, respect for the Maddy Boys is heavily overdue.
A pity, then, that their first album in five years should consist almost solely of cover versions, as a way of pinpointing those they are the most indebted to. Even with their last LP they were knocking out tunes like ‘Johnny The Horse’ and ‘4AM’, songs that contained enough zest and longing and swagger and melancholic narrative to stand up with their greatest of hits. With ‘The Dangermen Sessions Volume One’, they seem to be functioning to show how good their original influences were, seeing as these songs still sound great when some old English geezers are trying to get the Jamaican patois on Desmond Dekker numbers right.
Not that it’s a bad attempt, either – the offbeat rhythms and bright horns are danceable enough in a Saturday night pub-rock sort of way, which peaks at their skanking rendition of Lord Tanamo’s ‘Taller Than You Are’. The woofer-worrying basslines and echo-chamber overhauls also give a dub-tastic edge that salvages some depth from the original productions, such as on ‘Israelites’ and their run through of Bob Leaper’s ‘Dangerman AKA High Wire’. But whilst it’s a reasonably enjoyable romp, it prompts the question of whether any band can do justice to their biggest influences, let alone a genre that was as excruciatingly and near-universally brilliant as Jamaican ska. (Curiously, it’s the sole Motown cap-doffer that suffers most here, as The Supremes’ hit ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’ is turned from booming and bittersweet to lilting and limp.) The most telling part is in the sleevenotes, when bassist Bedders writes “do _[the song] justice? That is another matter and maybe not the idea.”_
Maybe this is just a sign that they’ve gone full circle now – reverting back to their roots on Two-Tone doing Prince Buster cover versions by…well, doing Prince Buster cover versions. But whilst back then they bounced along with cheekiness and zeal, now they seem to be trying to continue the reggae-meets-Brit-suburbia Nutty blueprint but end up falling flat in too many places. Whether it’s resting on their laurels is questionable, but it’s doesn’t sound passionate enough to make cries of “fuck art, let’s dance!” sound as rallying as they once were. Cross your fingers for more original material, eh?
6Thomas Blatchford's Score