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'The Liberty of Norton Folgate' is the first album in 10 years from 80's Ska band Madness and it been well worth the wait. Madness are London boys, originally from Camden Town. In TLONF (as I will refer to it from here on in) Madness show us just how proud they are to be Londoners with this collection of stories from the city.
Strange title, as Suggs says in the introduction in the sleeve of this album, it sounds like something Syd Barrett may have come up with. In fact, it's to do with a small area of London, around Spittlefields that became a Liberty - it didn't have to abide by the restrictions and laws of the rest of London. As Suggs says in this intro it was " a refuge for actors, thinkers, louts, lowlifes and libertines, outsiders and troublemakers..' No surprise then, that Norton Folgate makes a great subject matter to base an album around. Madness' tales from here and London as a whole make TLONF as brilliant a collection of tales from the city as it is a great record musically.
I love Madness, and while hits such as 'My Girl' and 'It Must Be Love' are near to genius level, listening to 'The Business' (their substantial 'best bits') I find myself coming across a lot of 'skippers.' I find Madness are, or were, a band who could produce some great hits but a lot of forgettable music too. TLONF is different. This has no low points really and the 15 songs on it are all potential single material. Clearly the 10 year gap between releases, means we've got 10 years worth of Madness 'hits' without the fillers.
Real stand out tracks from TLONF are -
'We are London' - A real whistlestop tour of London in 4 minutes. Mentions of Regents Park, Baker Street, Chinatown and Compton Street, a great introduction and indication of what this album is all about. I have mixed feelings with London. I go up there regularly as it has a lot to offer, but I wouldn't want to live there. I don't like the hustle and bustle and I think this line from 'We are London' is very true "You can make it your own hell or heaven, Live as you please."
'Sugar and Spice' - On first listen of this I thought it was a bit sweet and sickly but the more I've heard it the more I like it. 'Lines such as 'that's Sugar and Spice, everything was so nice' might not be a profound lyric but Madness write songs about ordinary situations and ordinary people and this song really does sound like Suggs is reminiscing to a friend. The tune is so catchy I can forgive the odd cheesy lyric.
'Dust Devil' - The first single release from this album. You make have seen the video featuring Alfie Allen. It's a short, sharp catchy song that's back to their ska roots. I love it.
'The Liberty of Norton Folgate' -Recorded live, the title track and close to the album. This is great a real surreal story and journey through Norton Folate. Mentions of 'Old Jack Norris, the musical shrimp', ''Mr. Truman's Beer Factory' and 'a Chinese man trying hard to flog you moody DVDs' conjures up glorious images of this small London 'Liberty' and makes it one of my favourite tracks from Madness ever.
Overall, an excellent album. I must admit I did not expect to like it quite as much as I did but I simply cannot stop listening to this. Along with green Day's 21st Century Breakdown, I've been spoilt for excellent new albums recently. Good stuff. Just can't wait until Madstock in July to hear it all live!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 We Are London
3 Sugar And Spice
4 Forever Young
5 Dust Devil
7 That Close
8 Mk 11
9 On The Town
11 Idiot Child
14 Clerkenwell Polka
15 The Liberty Of Norton Folgate