sat 25/05/2024

Album: Madness - Theatre of the Absurd presents C'Est la Vie | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Madness - Theatre of the Absurd presents C'Est la Vie

Album: Madness - Theatre of the Absurd presents C'Est la Vie

A tuneful, witty, melancholy and dynamic state-of-the-nation address

Never mind the cover art, get stuck into the music

Madness are an English institution due to deathless, jolly hits such as “House of Fun”, “Baggy Trousers” and “One Step Beyond”, but there’s always been another side to them.

The London band are often at their best when bittersweet. Lesser-known songs such as “Grey Day”, “Madness (is All in the Mind)” and “One Better Day” showcased a downbeat poignance. Their new album, their 13th, is a case in point. It’s a response to the disturbing times we live in, and to “a disparate couple of years which saw the band at their most polarised and fragmented”. I can’t stop playing it.

Ignore the iffy photoshop cover art, which does the contents a disservice. Dive straight to the music. On it, Madness seem free from expectation, loosed from their “nutty boys” straitjacket. The production is unafraid to rock on songs such as the pounding paranoia of “Run For Your Life”, the funk-riffed, percussive “If I Go Mad”, and the twangy melancholy of “Set Me Free”. Some vocals are (I think) even taken by others than Suggs. But it’s the standard of the songs that really makes C’Est La Vie shine.

Vaguely structured as a music hall show, with short spoken interludes by the actor Martin Freeman, the music’s literate, witty theatricality portrays a Britain frayed and battered. To name but three songs, “In My Street” is a clear-eyed antidote to the cosiness of “Our House”, “Baby Burglar” emanates autobiographical frustration at dismally stacked social circumstance, and the title number, a great song, has a dynamically bleak desperation (“It’s every man now on his own/It’s all for one, you’d better run”).

From Insta celeb banality to visions of free market Armageddon, Madness tilt at the bad guys, the overall impression one of a country fighting to survive as the lights are turned out, one by one. It’s as near as they’ve ever been to actual rage, but all channelled into vibrant, catchy, bouncy songwriting and, of course, laced with love, humour and glimpses of hope. It is, without a doubt, Madness’s best and most consistent album since the 1980s. Time and more prolonged listening will tell whether it might be one of their best of all.

Below: watch the lyric video for "C'Est la Vie" by Madness

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