I couldn’t tell you whether growing up in Southern California is any different than growing up anywhere else. I do know that after meeting people who grew up on the East Coast that not one of them had heard of Oingo Boingo, so maybe that will help explain. Having spent some time in Orange County (and no, absolutely no one called it the `O.C.’) and then San Diego, I can tell you that ska was pretty big. It didn’t surprise me at all that No Doubt, Sublime and Goldfinger became so popular, because growing up with KROQ in the ’80s exposed us all to the Specials, Selecter, the English Beat, UB40, and yes, Madness. “Our House” was their one big hit back then, but not their only good song by a long shot. “It Must Be Love,” “Tomorrow’s Just Another Day,” “Michael Caine,” “House of Fun” and especially “One Step Beyond” were radio staples for us SoCal’ers. In that way, we were luckier than most. To the rest of the country, Madness was a one hit wonder. In their native UK, Madness is revered to the point that former Attractions members Steve Nieve and Bruce Thomas joined the band for a reunion in the late ’80s. Madness are back again, this time not so much to make a serious stab at chart stardom, but instead to have some fun with some great music.
The Dangermen Sessions is a covers album, but that shouldn’t put off anyone to buying this album as Madness has always been successful with covers including the aforementioned “One Step Beyond” (originally by Prince Buster) and “It Must Be Love” (originally by Labi Siffre). This album could also have easily stolen the title of UB40’s covers album, Labour of Love, as that truly exemplifies what is going on here. Madness lovingly record each song, which you can tell they handpicked with care and reverence. “Shame and Scandal” is a hilarious song about a boy who falls in love with his sister. “I Chase the Devil (A.K.A. Ironshirt)” is a classic reggae song by Lee “Scratch” Perry. But ska and reggae are not the only grounds trodden by Madness. They even have a go at the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On” and pull it off wonderfully. Suggs’ staccato vocal method makes each cover an original, relying on the strength of the band and a confidence in his own style rather than attempting a more faithful version.
Rudy Mills’ “John Jones” is a Trojan label classic and few will have probably heard it before this version, but thankfully Madness brings it to us. This was one of Madness’ gifts to the world. They popularized and brought attention to a genre of music that was lingering in the shadows and longed for club and radio play. I am listening to “John Jones” right now and am finding it extremely difficult to stay still in my seat. The Kinks’ popular classic “Lola” comes next and it didn’t take much to put the song into a reggae / ska atmosphere. “You’ll Lose a Good Thing” has been done by both Aretha Franklin and Freddy Fender, but it is Jose Feliciano’s “Rain” that could become the next song a soundtrack for a Guy Ritchie or Matthew Vaughn flick. Fittingly, the covers party ends with Bob Marley’s “So Much Trouble in the World” because after all this partying, Madness shows that they can get serious too.
I didn’t realize it until I put on this CD, but I missed Madness. There was something about Suggs’ accent, Mike Barson’s keyboards, and one of the best horn sections in the business that was calling me back. If they simply wanted to make all covers albums for the rest of their careers, I’d be okay with that if they were all this good.
UB40- Labour of Love
The English Beat- Special Beat Service
The Specials- The Specials