photo & text by nacrowe
i will totally admit that NO DOUBT was my gateway drug to discovering MADNESS in high school back in the early 2000s. my junior year of high school in KUWAIT was a period when i felt totally unhinged from myself, partly because of my relocation to the MIDDLE EAST and, well, partly because i was in high school. so glad i dont have to repeat that year ever again. it was during this time that my family went on a winter trip to GREECE and in ATHENS i can remember buying my first DEVO, MINDLESS SELF INDULGENCE and MADNESS records.
what drew me to MADNESS and specifically their debut ONE STEP BEYOND... (STIFF, 1979) record was just the bouncy, WHIRLING chaos that was their landmark singles "ONE STEP BEYOND" and especially "NIGHT BOAT TO CAIRO." i loved how the songs seemed to truly lift off and then ascend to further and further heights of brass instrument driven INSANITY. as a teenager i was caught up in my own world and MADNESS felt like the equally ARTISTIC ANTITHESIS to other stuff i was listening to feverishly at the time like the art damaged JANE'S ADDICTION and NINE INCH NAILS.
being more than well-acquainted with NO DOUBT's TRAGIC KINGDOM (review linked HERE), as they were from my home area in ORANGE COUNTY (in fact ANAHEIM borders BREA), it made some type of COSMIC sense that their upbeat yet highly MELODIC sound was rooted in MADNESS' infectious cyclical POLYRHYTHMS and positive outlook. the other through-line for the two bands was an internal resolve to publicly acknowledge the roots of their 2 TONE SKA sound with that of its root material in JAMAICAN SKA and DANCEHALL traditions. doing so confronted the inherited COLONIAL MINDSET of their audience.
largely the other third wave ska bands influenced by MADNESS and their 2 TONE peers in THE SPECIALS and THE SELECTER were absolute shit (notable exceptions: OPERATION IVY, DANCEHALL CRASHERS, GOLDFINGER, THE AQUABATS and SAVE FERRIS). this AMERICAN third wave largely divorced themselves from the HISTORICAL and POLITICAL underpinnings of the sounds and its roots and therefore largely created a LISTLESS sound unmoored from any sense of gravitas or genuine heart. SKA in their hands became BLAND (and largely LAME) party music. it is this unfortunate recent lineage of bands that i am attempting to separate MADNESS from with this review.
i look at them as sonic innovators with an infectious sound that is as positive as it is inclusive. it is a distinctly BRITISH reaction to a lived THATCHER DYSTOPIA. one were revolutionary notions of racial integration and harmony between the classes was promoted and held in high esteem. in MADNESS i hear a sound rooted in BRITISH POLITICS and HISTORY that was constructed to confront issues surrounding such at the time. this was not trivial party music, per se. it was in fact music with a political agenda. and i believe that aspect of their sound is criminally overlooked.
ONE STEP BEYOND... is a landmark album and definitely worth checking out.