Madness - Singles Box Set Volume 1

Like the Kinks and Blur, Madness are a quintessentially English phenomenon. Throughout the eighties these nutty boys dominated the charts and still the regular Xmas reformations have been sell outs year in year out and contemporary acts such as No Doubt cite the band as an influence. Recently their studio albums have been reissued and a greatest hits compilation was released to great success, but for the die hard Madness completist this singles box set comprises their first eleven singles from 1979-1982 all with original artwork in the stiff label sleeves. Volume 2 is out later in the year, but for now this beautifully packaged collection has all the b sides plus the occasional live track and demo.

From "The Prince" to "Cardiac Arrest" there is much to admire and the joy here is discovering a plethora of largely forgotten B Sides which show the bands quality output never faltering. Track 2 on the "One Step Beyond" single is the delightful "Mistakes" which is on the surface typically Madness. The production is technically faultless, brilliantly bringing out the best of these talented guys. It's a jolly tune with good use of saxophone and hammond organ. It may be upbeat musically, but lyrically it is black with the line "don't think life is easy" particularly unforgettable.

"Don't Quote Me On That" from the "Work Rest & Play" EP has echoes of "One Step Beyond" with the bellowing vocal and spoken word interludes. This has a ska beat with a hook laden chorus which is impossible not to dance to. On CD5 you can hear the original promo with their interpretation of Swan Lake on the b side, classical in every sense of the word. "Crying Shame" is the b side to "Embarrassment", perhaps a little throwaway and underwhelming initially, it does possess their inimitable two tone beat and this tale of heartbreak is convincingly honest. The best of the bunch is "Shadow On The House" from "It Must Be love" single. Radically different in every way possible, this is a country style ballad which is refreshingly sweet with a restrained and touching vocal from Suggs. Witty wordplay comes in the form of the line "burn the candles at both ends and you'll get burnt". The outro of piano and saxophone together ends and unusual yet satisfying piece of music.

"Madness - Singles Box Set - Volume 1" is a fitting reminder of one of the Britain's best loved bands. The effortless quality of arrangements, songwriting and intelligence is unmistakable. It'll not only take you on a musical trip down memory lane, but will surprise you with the marvellous b sides.

Nicholas Paul Godkin

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