Nutty Boys covers album, their first release in six years

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Madness – The Dangermen Sessions Volume 1
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In 1999, Madness’ comeback album – the all-original but underappreciated
Wonderful – failed to ignite a full-scale revival in fortunes. Even the return of pianist and star songwriter Mike Barson, who’d long forsaken the band’s North London stomping grounds for Holland, made no difference. The great British public, it seemed, preferred Madness as a nostalgia act, coming together for the occasional Christmas special or reliving their glory days at a summer Madstock gathering of the clan.

Faced with such a response, a return to the sources that first inspired them seems like an obvious, unchallenging move. And yet The Dangerman Sessions Volume 1 is something more than a band opting for the easy life. The song choices reveal much about Madness’ worldview and the band’s own songwriting; offhand humour, sharp insights and rhythmic joy abound.

A tender and timely reworking of Marley’s “So Much Trouble” underlines their social conscience, the bittersweet tang they give Barbara Lynn’s “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” is redolent of their 1979 “My Girl” debut and the uproarious family saga detailed in Lord Tanamo’s “Shame and Scandal” could be a distant relative of “Embarrassment”.

Throughout, the performances show that as an outfit sprung with a sense of fun, wiry intelligence and daring, Madness remain a one-off. They are equally adept at bringing a unique twist to the ghost dub of Max Romeo’s “Iron Shirt” as they are at handling the ska swerveball John Holt brought to The Supremes “You Keep Me Hanging On”.

Madness remain an ebullient democracy. The ever-inventive saxman Lee ‘Kix’ Thompson deserves special praise – but each member adds vital touches.

Despite one notable misfire – Jose Feliciano’s “Rain” failing to attain the kitsch turned into classic status they conferred on Labi Siffre’s “It Must Be Love” – it’s an enjoyably diverse and imaginative collection. Even their lopsided version of “Lola” has a deliciously ramshackle English sleaze only they could have contrived. A perfect album for ageing karaoke entrants? Far from it; even as a covers band Madness remain one step beyond.

By Gavin Martin