Madness is back. The audience is back. The magic is back.
For their first proper live show since the COVID-19 pandemic, Madness took to the main stage at the Victorious Festival in Portsmouth on August 27. Although Woody missed the show for personal reasons, the rest of the band made a spectacular return before a jubilant crowd. Here are a couple of great audience videos that give some sense of the electrifying experience of witnessing the moment. Welcome back, boys!
Editor’s Note: Welcome aboard our first guest blogger: Laurie Alfaro, Stateside Madness Social Media Director and Podcast Producer. Laurie has contributed this glossary in conjunction with her deep-dive podcast on The Liberty of Norton Folgate. Sit back, relax, and we’ll travel many a long dim silent street… together! – D. Trull
In 2009, Madness released their magnum opus The Liberty of Norton Folgate, a concept album referring to a small area in east London named after Norton Folgate Street. Historically, this area was known for its colorful immigrant population, especially in Victorian times. Rightly or wrongly, the Liberty of Norton Folgate had a reputation for lawlessness, crime, and prostitution.
The album concludes with the ten-minute, ten-second epic title track, “The Liberty of Norton Folgate.” The song references many people and places in Victorian England that may not be known to American audiences. In this article, I will outline the people and places mentioned in the song to give listeners some context so that they can truly appreciate this masterpiece.
“This is the story of the Liberty of Norton Folgate” (0:10)
As we learned in Episode #23 of the Stateside Madness Podcast, Norton Folgate was a liberty in Middlesex, England, adjacent to the City of London in what would eventually become the East End of London. A “liberty” is an area in which rights reserved to the king had been devolved into private hands; in other words, it was self-governed, ruled by a court of ten elected officers who derived their authority from the people. Notable for the time, the elected officers included women. It was an 8.7-acre site originally occupied by the Priory and Hospital of St. Mary Spital. Playwright Christopher Marlowe was a resident of Norton Folgate, and the first-ever staging of a Charles Dickens play was held at the City of London Theatre in Norton Folgate (titled The Pickwick Club or The Age We Live In). William Shakespeare himself reportedly lived and worked in the neighborhood as well.
A short time ago Old Jack Norris died suddenly and an inquest was held on the body, before Mr. Stirling, Coroner, at the Black Horse, George-street, St. Giles’s. It was reported the deceased had starved to death. The evidence proved, that latterly the deceased, who was nearly seventy years of age, was unable to pursue his occupation of a dealer in shrimps, which, from his peculiar cry, gained him the appellation of the “Musical Shrimp Man”….
Battling Levinsky versus Jackie Berg (0:42)
Battling Levinsky was the world light heavyweight champion from 1916 to 1920. Jack Kid Berg, or Jackie Kid Berg, was an English boxer born in the East End of London who became the World Light Welterweight Champion in 1930. Both were inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Since their boxing careers took place much later than Victorian times, their inclusion may seem like an anachronism; but after all, Suggs is taking a broad survey of Norton Folgate’s history that extends to street hucksters flogging bootleg DVDs.
Arnold Circus (2:00)
This area had once been one of the worst slums in London. In 1890, the entire area was razed, and a new housing development was built in its place. According to Atlas Obscura:
Rather than lifting London’s poorest from squalor, the Boundary Estate forced them into neighboring slums. The construction of the estate did, however, succeed in revitalizing the immediate neighborhood. Crime and violence in the area decreased substantially and Arnold Circus was viewed as a haven by London’s Jewish immigrant community.
Petticoat Lane (2:03)
A clothing market in Spitalfields. In the late 1800s, the area experienced a wave of Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution. Many of these immigrants went into the garment industry and set up stalls in the clothing market.
The Well of Shadows (2:04)
According to author Ed O’Regan, the Well of Shadows is a play on words referring to Shadwell in London’s East End. (Shadwell = Shad Well, Well of Shadows.) In his book Well of Shadows, Underground London (AS Publishing, 2013), he writes:
The social history of London’s East End is that wave upon wave of poor and/or dispossessed immigrants: Hugenots [sic], Irish, Jews and, more recently, Bangladeshis.
The local gang of Bangladeshi youths called itself ‘The Shadwell Massive’.
In Victorian times, the Shadwell area was a slum where opium dens and prostitution were rampant.
Archipelago of Malay (2:33)
This refers to the island chain between Australia and mainland Indochina. The Malay Archipelago consists of 25,000 islands and islets, including East Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines. Portions of the archipelago were ceded to the British Empire under the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824.
Shadwell’s Tiger Bay (2:39)
Shadwell, mentioned earlier in the song, was a popular docking location for ships traveling up the River Thames. The rough-and-tumble nature of the area surrounding the docks earned it the nickname “Tiger Bay.” According to Ed Fisher in The Dictionary of Victorian London:
During the Victorian times, “Tiger Bay” was used (mostly by sailors but by others as well) to refer to various of the worst slum areas or districts as well as a few actual streets near the east-end London docks. Allegedly, the nickname was inspired by the awful nature of the brothels (and their operators) in the worst areas where many of the sailors were so badly treated.
“The Welsh and Irish wagtails” (2:45)
A wagtail is a songbird. Here, the wagtail is a metaphor for the people from Wales and Ireland and their native music. This thought continues in the next line, as “The music hall carousal is spilling out into bonfire light.”
Mr. Truman’s beer factory (3:06)
Located on Brick Lane in Tower Hamlets, Truman’s Brewery was once the largest brewery in the world. “Giants dancing up the brick wall” refers to the shadows of drunken revelers cast across the building’s iconic brick exterior. Joseph Truman became owner of the facility in 1683 or thereabouts. (Records from this time are a bit sketchy.) The brewery was passed down over many generations in the Truman family. Its famous 160-foot chimney is now a historical landmark. Today, The Old Truman Brewery is an events space and cultural center.
Spitalfields, Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets (3:14)
Spitalfields and Whitechapel are districts in the East End of London within the London borough of Tower Hamlets. Known for its dense immigrant population, in Victorian times this area was most famous as the hunting grounds of Jack the Ripper. Interestingly, the 2009 Madstock festival that coincided with the release of The Liberty of Norton Folgate shifted from the traditional Finsbury Park venue to Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets.
Due to its large South Asian population, Brick Lane is nicknamed Banglatown (as in Bangladesh). Suggs seems to mispronounce it as “Bangletown.”
Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem (3:48)
Dan Leno was a music hall comedian famed for his bawdy songs and drag routines. Author Peter Ackroyd wrote a 1994 murder mystery novel set in Victorian London, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem. The book’s fictional serial killer, a menace in the vein of Jack the Ripper, is named for the Limehouse district of Tower Hamlets. Though it was pure fiction, Ackroyd’s novel starred a number of historical figures including Dan Leno and Karl Marx. It was published in the United States as The Trial of Elizabeth Cree and adapted into a 2017 film, The Limehouse Golem. Suggs cites the psychogeographic approach of Ackroyd’s London: The Biography as an influence in his conception of “The Liberty of Norton Folgate.”
“Have a banana” (4:23)
“Let’s All Go Down the Strand” was a massively popular 1910 music hall song about having a night out on the Strand, a lively thoroughfare about 3 miles west of Norton Folgate. An ad-libbed audience singalong line got permanently tacked onto the chorus: “Let’s all go down the Strand, have a banana!” (much like various additions to “Sweet Caroline” popularized by American sports crowds). “Have a banana” has become an emblematic Cockney catchphrase much favored in the Suggs repertoire of stage patter.
In his recent guest spot on the Stateside Madness Podcast, Chris Foreman mentioned how he has profited as co-writer of “Our House,” a staple of the advertising circuit. “I do quite well out of sync licenses, you know,” he said with a laugh. “People want to use it. So yeah, it’s done me well!” The past year has seen the tune become a pandemic anthem in a lovely Miracle-Gro ad as well as spots for midwestern supermarket chain Hy-Vee and UK retailer Very.
And now it’s Allstate putting more U.S. dollars in Chrissy Boy’s pocket, thanks to their new “Our House” ad that steps beyond the coronavirus era. Contrary to the whole home-lockdown angle, this one proposes taking your castle and your keep with you on the go, in a manner of speaking.
The whimsical ad features comedic actress Erin Alexis hauling a whole house (albeit of the tiny variety) down the road hitched to her modest mom-mobile, over the familiar strains of “Our House.” The dulcet baritone of Allstate pitchman Dennis Haysbert implores viewers to bundle their home insurance with their auto policy to save a bundle. “You already pay for car insurance. Why not take your home along for the ride?”
It’s nowhere near as magical as the Miracle-Gro commercial, but it’s a good ad. There are two interesting things to note about the sociocultural mechanics that make it work.
First, it’s not until halfway through the ad that the song lyrics kick in. I think most “Our House” ads jump into a chorus or verse straightaway, but this one demonstrates patience. Likewise, we don’t see the whole visual gag at first, just tight shots of the house’s rumbling interior, a window box planter and curtains in the breeze, set to the instrumental overture. This shows that Allstate was confident enough that most people in their target demo would recognize the song and get the joke even before hearing Suggs and Carl. Just like when we hear the distinct bassline and cha-chings of Pink Floyd’s “Money,” we know an ad’s going to be about finances, and “We Are Family” telegraphs blood relations even without the Sister Sledge vocals, the “Our House” melody alone is enough to make us anticipate a commercial about home.
The other noteworthy thing about the ad is how it hinges on a common American misinterpretation of the chorus. “Our house, in the middle of our street.” This phrasing strikes U.S. listeners oddly, evoking nonsense images of a house erected right in the road itself, blocking traffic on both sides and violating of all sorts of zoning ordinances.
Even as a 13-year-old kid, I managed to figure out this meant the house was situated centrally along the length of the street, rather than across its width. Go halfway down our street, turn left at our house. Ten years ago, the blog Separated by a Common Language offered a thorough analysis of the British English idioms in “Our House,” wherein author Lynne “Lynneguist” Murphy astutely notes the following:
To my young American ears, this sounded intentionally funny. The house is in the middle of the street! Like where the manholes should be! No, no, no. This is the British English equivalent of in American English in the middle of our block. … But even if it weren’t in the middle of the street, ‘our house’ would still be in our street, because in British English addresses can be in the street or road.
Indeed, let us not forget that the earthquake was erupting but not in Orange Street. If Lee Thompson had an American editor, it would have been not erupting on Orange Street. And then we have Suggs’s new composition “In My Street,” which puts the Yank-baffling choice of preposition front and centre. Although it is interesting that Suggs also wrote of passing Amy Winehouse on Dean Street, rather than “in Dean Street”… perhaps because the scene of a personal encounter is different from a fixed address?
As a side note, the “Our House” lyric that always tripped me up most was “the kids are playing up downstairs.” I recall one of my friends postulating that the children were on a lower floor above the sub-basement. Murphy’s blog post helpfully explains that “playing up” means “behaving irritatingly or erratically,” which we might express as kids “acting up” or “cutting up” downstairs.
But back to the Allstate ad. Even if it it requires being thickheaded to think the house in “Our House” was literally in the road, where the lines are painted, and where the chicken crosses, that peculiar pinch of British flavour is inherent to our experience of the song in America. So much so that an ad agency selling the benefits of combining car and home insurance was able to find a nostalgic pop hit that expresses this specific concept to us. And Allstate was confident enough to let the music speak for itself, free of exposition by way of lyrics or President David Palmer, for the exorbitantly expensive duration of 15 seconds. It’s pretty cool that Madness still occupies its minuscule niche of American pop culture enough to pull that off. “Our House” is in good hands with Allstate.
And honestly, it makes for a better insurance ad than “Driving in My Car” or “Mrs Hutchinson” ever could.
Chris Foreman has recently claimed that when the band sat down to gather old stories for the Before We Was We book, he was the only one who could remember that they had toured America in 1979. Either Chrissy Boy was exaggerating his bandmates’ faulty memory or they’ve miraculously reversed their amnesia, because we’ve got new evidence of them recounting those early U.S. adventures on film.
The new documentary series inspired by that namesake autobiography, Before We Was We: Madness by Madness, is being released in the UK on demand on BT TV and exclusively on AMC from BT TV. Through the kindness of our friends at the Madness Information Service, SSM has taken an exclusive sneak peek at the third and final episode of the series, airing May 15 in the UK. In the snippets below, formatted in the style of the book, the band reminisce about those first visits to New York City and Los Angeles, and the distinctly contrasting and lasting impressions they formed there.
Full episodes of Before We Was We are being posted on the BT YouTube channel, although it appears these will not be playable in the United States. Word has it that the series will make its way to digital services in the U.S. later this year. Count on Stateside Madness to keep you informed of any official announcements. But for now, here’s what the band had to say about their maiden voyage to the land of the free and the home of the brave…
MIKE: So we left the 2 Tone Tour early because Dave Robinson had this idea, he wanted us to get to America before The Specials. He thought whoever got to America first was going to be the one that they all remembered, the one they thought started the ska thing. He wanted it to be Madness.
MARK: They got hold of Seymour Stein, who had Sire Records. He said that he would sign us for just America. So it was obvious then that we would go to America at some point to promote the record. But it came very quickly.
The Mean Streets of Manhattan
MARK: Like a lot of people in bands, I think, it was a bit of a dream to go to America. And we got the chance. It was incredibly exciting. It’s that moment, you make that drive in from the airport in New York, and you see the Manhattan skyline. It really is just mind-blowing.
WOODY: It was a mad city.
LEE: Everything was big. Massive. Buzzing.
SUGGS: New York in 1979 was just like in the movies. Steam coming out the subway vents. Street lights not working. Potholes.
WOODY: It was one of the first places where I noticed immense wealth right up against the shoulder of poverty.
MARK: It was pretty depressed. There was rubbish everywhere. They’d almost gone bankrupt. They were having strikes.
WOODY: So you could just walk down one road and go “What the fuck? This is just horrendous!”
CATHAL: I remember walking down the street and the vibe was scary.
MARK: We wandered through some of the worst areas fearless. All around the Lower East Side and Alphabet City, where it was really dodgy. We played three or four clubs in New York in pretty quick succession. We’d sometimes play two sets a night as well, so sometimes we’d go on at 2:00 in the morning, 4:00 in the morning. Weird times.
CHRIS: The first two shows nearly sort of killed us, because we went on late, we were kind of jetlagged, and we were drunk. I really thought I was going to die.
CATHAL: The drink measures were more than we expected.
SUGGS: Of course the other problem was they didn’t go out until 10:00 at night, but we’d have been started by 7:00. So we’d be absolutely fucked by 3:00 in the morning.
CATHAL: Me and Suggs went out early, too early. And we came back drunk and out of our minds.
SUGGS: We were definitely fish out of water. It was kind of like the audiences were coming to see this funny novelty band. Our accents, and what we were singing about, and the music we were playing were so out of step with what was going on in New York. And it just wasn’t making any sense being there.
MARK: But California was just completely different.
WOODY: We hit Los Angeles, and there were palm trees, sunshine. I just went “Ah, it’s just lovely.”
MARK: It was just sunny every day, and the people there had this sort of, not childlike but childish innocence to them. There was definitely a spillover from the hippie times there. Everyone was very laid back, nothing was a problem. Yeah, it was completely different.
MARK: We met the Go-Go’s, who were an all-girl group, and we did shows together with them. We got on very well with them. The great thing about that was that they took us around places, they showed us places to go. So we had a really nice time there.
CHRIS: So we hang out with the Go-Go’s, and Bedders is seeing the drummer, Gina. I thought, that guitarist Jane is very nice, so I sort of ended up with her. You know, we extended English hospitality.
LEE: My missus is convinced that I was knocking the lead singer off. Belinda Carlisle. But, ah… I was in her bedroom with Chrissy Boy, and I had a right old case of the wind. Yeah, she never invited me back in her bedroom again. The fucking bathroom tiles were sliding off the walls. (Laughs.) The wallpaper peeled.
SUGGS: We did two shows a night at the Whisky A Go-Go, wearing the same clothes that were still wet from the first show. The foolishness of youth.
MIKE: When you played in L.A. everyone was totally out of it. But does it matter? I don’t know. You got the feeling sometimes like it didn’t. You got the feeling you could do anything.
See Ya Later, Uncle Sam
WOODY: It was a brutal tour, really hard work.
MIKE: I guess the performances were good, but touring America takes its toll.
WOODY: Yeah, I’d already been frazzled to fuck on the 2 Tone Tour, and then in America I really felt dreadful most of the time. Hanging on for dear life.
MIKE: The whole thing was all getting a bit chaotic, really. People kept disappearing, meeting Americans, going off in their different directions. So we all had this sense of belonging together, but then everybody was getting into these different situations. Which was exciting and everything, but a bit dispersing at the same time.
WOODY: Being in these amazing places… but we were missing home.
Special thanks to Jon Young of the MIS for setting up this SSM exclusive preview.
It’s a big day in Madness news with official confirmation of the re-rescheduled U.S. tour, plus a major livestream event coming in May. First we have this new slate of 2022 dates in America, following some piecemeal announcements and contradictory information. We look forward to welcoming our Nutty Boys at the following gigs:
The Fox Theater, Oakland, CA
The Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival, Las Vegas, NV
House of Blues, Boston, MA
Hammerstein Ballroom, New York, NY
Tickets previously booked for the 2020/2021 dates will be honored at the rescheduled shows. Contact your point of purchase with any questions.
In the more immediate future, Madness will be presenting a global livestream event on May 14 billed as “The Get Up!” Direct from the London Palladium and featuring comedian Charlie Higson, the show promises “live music, new and classic Madness songs, comedy, some incredibly special guests and even Mike Barson playing the part of HRH Queen Elizabeth II.” With promotional graphics in the vintage style of Ealing comedy movie posters, “The Get Up!” looks to be a right old knees-up chock full of pure entertainment.
Tickets go on sale April 23. The UK livestream is scheduled for 3:30 PM Eastern Time, and later livestreams for the U.S. audience are set for the east coast and west coast, at 8:30 PM Eastern or Pacific. The ticket sales site states “There are no restrictions on which stream you can watch so please choose the most convenient one for you.” It further specifies that “The Get Up” will not be available on-demand afterward, so no do-overs for those who miss out. Get up, get in, got it?
BMG will release a new U.S. exclusive greatest hits compilation entitled Our House: The Very Best of Madness. Originally announced for May 2020, then postponed along with the band’s North American tour, the album is now set for release on March 12.
Our House will be available on CD, vinyl LP and digital bundle, and preorders are up on Amazon. See above for a first look at the album sleeve artwork, which is similar to (but slightly different from) the Full House compilation released in the UK in 2017.
The new collection consists of 12 tracks spanning the whole of Madness’s career (full list below). Of particular note to fans and collectors, this will mark the first physical release of any kind for “Bullingdon Boys,” which debuted as a digital-only single in November 2019.
Our House is clearly designed for the American market, named for and led off by the band’s biggest stateside hit, with the other familiar single “It Must Be Love” in the second slot. As a clever nod to the band’s U.S. beginnings, the track list also includes the subtly polished remix of “Night Boat to Cairo” that first appeared on the 1983 Madness album released by Geffen in the U.S.
But this collection isn’t entirely stuck in the past – Our House is the band’s first-ever hits collection for the U.S. that encompasses their 21st century post-reunion output, making room for “NW5” and “Mr Apples” alongside the most recent “Bullingdon Boys.” Discovering these new tunes, casual American fans who only know the ’80s hits will have the chance to learn that Madness is still very much alive and kicking in the present day!
Can’t get enough SSM via this blog and our social media? Now you can listen to our American-accented take on the nuttiest sound around with our new Stateside Madness Official Podcast!
SSM team members Laurie Alfaro and Poly Collins are your hosts for our new audio venture. “We’re coming at this from a specifically American perspective,” Laurie says. “As American fans, there are things maybe we perceive a little bit differently, like in the lyrics and song meanings. Some weeks we’ll do an album review, a deep dive into the album tracks. Other weeks I’m hoping we can devote an episode to one specific member of the band. We hope to have some exclusive content as we get closer to the American tour dates.”
Stateside Madness Official Podcast is now available for streaming and download from these popular podcast services listed below. Pod up, listen, and DANCE!
The music of Madness has served as soundtracks and jingles in quite a lot of American TV commercials. We fondly recall the vintage kids’ Colgate Pump ad, imported from the UK, which surely got more airplay here than “Baggy Trousers” itself. (Anyone up for a sequel, “The Liberty of Brushin’ Colgate”?) Levi’s borrowed “It Must Be Love” for a baffling pantomime of romantic devotion between a guy and his best… jeans? And of course “Our House” has done its share of flogging U.S. brands, from a clever “Jingle Bells” mashup for Verizon to a severely not-clever bastardization for Maxwell House.
Now there’s a new “Our House” ad for Scotts Miracle-Gro that’s as surprising as it is timely. And it really does our band (house) proud. Take a look.
Created by New York agency VaynerMedia, the spot plays to our shared need for summertime fun during a global pandemic lockdown. The scenes of staycation festivities consist of real people, shot in backyards on their phones and cameras – “user generated content,” as they say in the marketing biz. Scotts Miracle-Gro ads usually focus on gardening and landscaping, but the current situation inspired the company to think in broader terms of what our lawns mean to Americans. They’re not just the grass and trees outside, they are valued as part of “our house,” and a safe haven where we make memories.
For Madness fans, what’s really significant about the ad is the version of the song used. It’s not the original hit single, and it’s not a cover version. It’s Madness themselves, putting a more contemplative spin on “Our House” from 2013. It’s known as The People’s Palace Version, recorded outside North London’s beloved Alexandra Palace with a chorus of fans as a gesture of thanks and appreciation to the band’s loyal supporters.
That Ally Pally recording has always given me goosebumps, stirring my emotional connection to my Madhead brothers and sisters. Look, there’s a woman wearing the same Madstock 2009 shirt I cherish from my first Madness show. I am one of them. This is my tribe. The only one thing I don’t love about this anthemic singalong is that it doesn’t include the whole of “Our House.” And I tell you, I never in a million years would have guessed it would end up being broadcast in an American commercial.
Consider this: Other than the odd appearance on a U.S. talk show, or high-profile special events like the Olympics or an NFL game in London, this amounts to the first time a post-1980s Madness recording has been granted a mass American audience! Surely some ad creative at VaynerMedia must be a legit Madness fan, because I can’t imagine the People’s Palace “Our House” is well documented in Madison Avenue music licensing libraries.
Kudos to whoever made that call, because the ad works brilliantly. It doesn’t matter if the majority of viewers don’t realize that’s Madness, the original artist, judging by the online comments about that melancholy “cover.” Even if Suggs’ matured and mellowed voice carries zero recognition or nostalgia factor, look at all the universal buttons being surgically punched. Father, mother, sister, brother, the kids are playing. British Madness fan voices transfigured into a surrogate choir of American families. Abundant summer fun without the beach or the highways or the Disneyland. Right in our own backyards, there’s always something happening and it’s usually quite loud. We remember way back then when everything was true and when we would have such a very good time, such a fine time. Such a happy time.
Which is exactly what we all need once again, right now.
Beyond Madness, my second favorite British act of all time is Paul Weller. Relations have been friendly and collegial among them over the decades, dating back to Weller citing “Embarrassment” as an inspiration for the Motown beat of The Jam’s “Town Called Malice.” Of particular note, while working as an early ’90s A&R rep at Go! Discs, Carl Smyth helped Weller launch his solo career. In the past year, Weller joined Madness on stage at House of Common 2019 to great acclaim, and he guested on Suggs’s Love Letters to London BBC Radio 4 series, which saw the pair of them duetting on “Nobody’s Fool” by Ray Davies.
And now Lee Thompson has turned in a guest spot on Weller’s high-profile new album. On Sunset went straight in at #1 in the UK, giving Weller the accomplishment of topping the album chart in five consecutive decades, a feat matched only by Lennon and McCartney. There’s no American angle in reporting this Weller and Thompson collaboration (safe to say On Sunset isn’t making history in the U.S. charts), but when anyone from Madness teams up with one of my other musical heroes, you better believe Stateside Madness will have something to say about it!
Thommo contributes a laid-back sax solo on the Weller-penned track “Walkin’.” Paul has been enthusiastic in his praise for Lee’s work. “I’ve seen Lee playing blinders in recent years, both with Madness and with his Ska Orchestra. He’s a terrific player.”
Have a listen to “Walkin’” (Lee comes in around 1:38.)
So what do I think? Honestly, it’s a bit disappointing. The song isn’t the most interesting on the album, and it sounds a lot like a reworking of “Here’s the Good News” from 2005’s As Is Now (which wasn’t one of the most interesting on that album, either). Probably unfairly, I had imagined this would amount to something more like Lee’s brilliant guest sax on The Specials’ “Hey, Little Rich Girl,” where it’s 100% that inimitable Lee Jay Kix Thompson sound, whereas the “Walkin’” solo could be any decent session player.
I believe my reaction to On Sunset has suffered from too much anticipation and advance buildup. This is also the case with the 7-minute opening track “Mirror Ball,” which has been hyped as an epic creative watershed in every Weller article and interview for the past year, but hits me – as much as it pains me to say – as a boring swing and a miss. (Apologies, Paul.)
But new songs do often need to grow on you, and I will say that I’m warming up to “Walkin’” the more I listen to it. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s a nice, breezy, easygoing summer tune. I’m happy Lee Thompson played on it. This partnership between Weller and Thommo gives me hope that someday I’ll get my fantasy wish of hearing Paul belt out a cover of a certain old Madness tune he rated back in the day. That one what Lee wrote.
In the course of their intimate Two Mad Men and a String Quartet performance shared online June 6, Suggs and Mike Barson debuted two new Madness songs. “Theatre of the Absurd,” a Suggs composition, appears to be a spiritual sequel to his solo track “The Greatest Show on Earth” with a more somber tone. The other new tune is of particular interest to us at Stateside Madness, for reasons Barso outlined in his introduction:
“This song is about the dire straits over the pond at the moment. No, not really at the moment. It’s a song about our cousins in America, yeah. Leaders of the world. And where they’re leading us, who knows?”
Running just over 90 seconds, “All the President’s Men” is a terse meditation on social and political turmoil in recent U.S. history, mourning the current tattered state of the American dream. Barson borrows the title from the Woodward & Bernstein exposé on Watergate (and the subsequent Redford & Hoffman film adaptation), which originated as an allusion the irreparable injury following Humpty Dumpty’s fall.
The song is bracingly relevant in the context of international protests in response to the death of George Floyd. The mood and message beautifully fit the string quartet format, and an eventual studio recording could likely prove to have a similar sparse arrangement. A fantastic new piece of work to suit our troubled times.
The year was 1963 The last one for Kennedy In ’68 the Lorraine Motel On the balcony Where the Doctor fell From a single shell
A last shot at democracy Shining city on a hill Land of the free Seventeen agencies Looking out for thee The NSA and Homeland Security
A shot rang out The sound of gunfire echoes ’cross the mall The future sucked into a dark black hole Short-sighted small minds clamour for control
But there’s no dream no more Psyops are now running the score And the money trickles upwards evermore You’d almost think it was 1984