Recently called "great giants of British music" by BBC late night host Jools Holland, 2 Tone/Second Wave ska invasionists Madness have waited nearly a decade to offer the world new songs. On August 18th [according to the label's website, the album will be released in the US on July 7, but will be available digitally on June 23] Yep Roc Records offers the answer, The Liberty of Norton Folgate.When your humble blogger here thinks of Yep Roc, its more for its Americana roots rock from Dave Alvin (ex-Blasters) and John Doe (X), the garage rock of The Fleshtones (awesomely good!), and re-issues of Robyn Hitchcock's back catalogue--not for the defiantly British music-hall pop-ska of a band like Madness. (Then again, they do have Brit ex-New Wave alt superstars like Paul Weller and Nick Lowe on their roster...)
Formed in the fertile underground of 1976 London (along with contemporaries The Specials), Madness is a seven man musical army hell bent on capturing the colorful influences of the people and cultures of their beloved city. Their dedication to the exploration of musical London as well as countless UK top ten singles/albums have garnered the band household name status in Britain, making the album one of the most anticipated releases of the year in their home country.
Most known in the U.S. for their still ubiquitous No 7 Billboard hit 'Our House,' the band has sustained cult status here in the States, with enthusiastic fans and record store merchants clamoring for another record of originals-it has been a decade since their album Wonderful (1999). (The all-covers album The Dangermen Sessions Vol. 1 was released in 2005.)
Described by the band as an "audio guide to the greatest city on earth" and Madness' unique take on the concept album, The Liberty of Norton Folgate moves between elements of burlesque jazz, rock, ska and even polka combining for an effortless lesson in pop song craft.
An area outside the city walls of the old city of London, Norton Folgate was one of several original 'liberties' independent of the bureaucracy of the main city government. Founding member Graham McPherson (aka Suggs) describes the area as, "a refuge for actors, writers, thinkers, louts, lowlifes and libertines - outsiders and troublemakers all. Sounds like our kind of place does it not?!" Suggs continues, "We'd been kicking around the idea of a concept album about London for a while. We wanted to get the x-ray camera out and shoot down through the crust, past the bullets and bones, the clay pipes and stones, to try and get to the soul of the place. We're all dancing in the moonlight, we're all on borrowed ground."
The spirit of the place that would later become Whitechapel, the hunting ground of Jack the Ripper, stalks this album and reestablishes Madness as distinguished statesmen of pop, a vital force influencing yet another generation of musical groundbreakers.
I know, I should be grateful to Yep Roc that The Liberty of Norton Folgate is even receiving a domestic release here in the first place, right? Especially during these demon days, what with most of the music industry crashing around our heads. Plus, Yep Roc tends to release vinyl versions of their new releases, so here's hoping this is the case with Madness!
If you have a spare $65 burning a hole in your pants, Yep Rock is offering the deluxe box set of The Liberty of Norton Folgate as a pre-order only until June 30th (and the set will not be available after that date).
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In random kind of Madness-related news, Milwaukee's Invaders (a third wave band formed in the late 80s that shares the name as an early incarnation of Madness) are active again and playing a gig in Madison, WI on May 23rd (to be followed by shows throughout the summer). Who knew?