Madness - The Rise And Fall - Review
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critics' view

Madness are one of the quintessential British groups that made their name in the late 1970’s and who still, over 30 years later, are able to raise a smile of joyful expectation when they announce a new album or showcase one of their much anticipated sell out night at venues up and down the country.

After much success with their previous three studios albums; One Step Beyond, Absolutely and 7, all of which made the U.K. top ten, the band released in the autumn of 1982 their fourth and arguably their best album The Rise and Fall. This would stand musically head and shoulders above all other contenders till the men from North London hit music gold in 2009 with the inspired and tantalising concept album which surrounds the love of London and its people in The Liberty of Norton Folgate.

The fourth album, which now celebrates 30 years of pop/Ska mayhem, saw one of the U.K.’s favourite bands riding high in public opinion and firmly entrenched as one of the few group who were able to appeal to lovers of most genres of music but also almost every member of the family. As they prepared to go into the studio to record The Rise and Fall it may have been this initial thought that spurred them onto write songs with the theme of childhood attached to them. In the linear notes for the 2010 re-release, the drummer Dan ‘Woody’ Woodgate would recall that, “We all went away to write about childhood, how we grew up, where we went to school, what characters we had met, what our parents were like. It was a mixture of old experiences and childhood memories given a surreal twist.”

Whatever was going through each member’s minds as they wrote their compositions for the album for Suggs, the main vocalist for the group, his childhood had been spent in a lot of different places, seemingly on the move all time with his mother. At one point they ended up in Liverpool and for the opening of the new album, the band placed his song, Rise and Fall, first on side A. The beauty of the song is that it is tinged with unrelenting regret of a life that Suggs had and the people he continually seemed to leave behind.

The sound was nothing like the fans of the band would have been used to. The casual observer who only listened to the songs played out on the radio may have been shocked at the melancholic and dispiriting song that greeted them as they played the record for the first time. This was not what the band was supposed to be about. Yet underneath the hi-jinks and supposed smiles that the band had worn throughout their career, there was always the element of despair, it had just been well hidden before.

In 1981 the band recorded the album 7 and the opening track to that particular set of songs was the bouncy but grim reading of a man who gave everything to his work that in the end the workaholic died of a heart attack and surrounded by strangers. Cardiac Arrest was a daring opener, the grim reality of the subject matter being hidden by the upbeat tempo of the song. With Rise And Fall the words are more personal and with no tempo to give it the upbeat moment that would make it a recognisable hit for the band but that didn’t matter. For listeners delving beneath the facade of Madness it showed a greater maturity and depth of feeling that somehow had been missing over the previous albums.

Madness had avoided being in any way political in a major way during the first three albums but by the time The Rise and Fall came about the U.K. Government had embroiled itself in re-taking the Falkland Islands that had been invaded by Argentina in the April of that year. It was the first time for a generation that a British army had been forced into a battle to protect British civilians and Madness took full advantage of this in the magnificent Blue Skinned Beast. It might not have had the power to create shock waves as other politically driven musicians were able to do, however for a band that built up a reputation as being apolitical, it was a step that had been a long time coming and its biting sarcasm at the Tory Government was refreshing. The insidiousness of the imagery of soldiers saluting a government that had sent them to war and being offered a drink on those in high office was akin to the message that Roger Waters would spread later in the album The Final Cut.

The album has two very excellent highs on it that make the record an exceptional piece of work, the smashing Mr. Speaker (Gets The Word) and the crowning glory of Our House. Mr. Speaker Gets the Word stands out as being a song that could have sat easily on The Liberty of Norton Folgate, such is way that the track is constructed and its music hall element which frames the song makes it challenging and brilliant.

The crowning glory of The Rise and Fall is arguably the buoyant, bubbly and brimming with confidence Our House. A track that plays with the ideas of rose-tinted family life when times were hard and the whole family got along. It could be seen as a statement of the housing policy of the time in which it seemed acceptable to overcrowd houses in the misguided attempt to keep families together. Our House should be seen as one the stand out classics of the group’s domination on the charts during this period. It brings a smile to the face and even shows how good popular song writing can go hand in hand with politically charged observation.

Madness would go on for a while longer and produce some quality music and some great tunes but it would take nearly 20 years to reach the pinnacle of writing that began to appear on The Rise and Fall. In the first seven albums by Madness, nothing comes across as well as this particular tremendous and well written piece of music.

Ian D. Hall
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Blog run by Ian D. Hall: "My love of music and theatre has led me to see great bands and plays, not just in Liverpool but the wider artistic community. My dearest music loves are Punk, Progressive Rock, Metal, Rock, folk and pop."
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