thu 18/07/2024

Madness, O2 Arena | reviews, news & interviews

Madness, O2 Arena

Madness, O2 Arena

The old hits still dazzle, but fresh infusions of insanity are needed

Is too much sanity creeping in?

There were silly hats, and venerable, bouncy songs for all the family at the O2 last night. The traditional Madness December tour was Christmas come early for most of the audience, who sang about home, love, and the Middle East as they might do in church next week with rather less enthusiasm. The band’s original hits still hit the spot, though there was also a sense that, as with Christmas carols, the new ones mean well, but just aren’t as good.

The best half-dozen of Madness’ pop-ska fusion songs are among the most distinctive pieces of pop music ever created. They’re even better live, the pumping, squirming brass and cascading piano chords easily filling the O2 and sending adrenaline soaring through that building’s spiky roof. From the opener, “Night Boat to Cairo”, that (literally in this case) brought down the curtain with its foghorn sax blast, all the way through “Baggy Trousers” and “House of Fun” to “It Must Be Love”, the band’s prolific early hit machine showed its roadworthiness.  

The show is well-crafted, with an enjoyably melodramatic opening and effective visual displays. Lee Thompson’s manic dad-dancing won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s of a piece with Madness’ commitment, above all, to entertain. They’re easy to dance to, as well, the pogo-stick rhythms only really leaving time to bounce on the spot. It probably annoys the beard-stroking, shoegazing community, but it’s refreshing to find a band of occasional melodic genius that takes itself so unseriously.

Nothing’s less mad than an old, stale idea

At the same time, as each Christmas tour comes round, and the same hits are aired, a sense of cultural isolation can’t help creeping in. Madness’s cultural reference points have dated more than those of most of the Sixties’ rockers, and it’s not clear that Suggs and his team have uncovered sufficient new inspiration. “Not the One Direction perfume launch,” Suggs advised us early on, in an unnecessary reminder of how far Madness are from the modern pop scene. The only other musicians mentioned were Desmond Dekker and Barry White, and their musical roots, like their broader cultural influences, are in the Sixties and Seventies, while the band’s suits, spats, hats and shades seem to blend the trad jazz and mod scenes.

Songs like “The Last Rag and Bone Man”, about an acquaintance of Suggs’ who worked around Kentish Town and Highgate, don’t so much seem mad as quaintly antiquarian (and this is one of their newer compositions). Suggs’s Frank Spencer references, and Eric Idle’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” singing the audience out of the hall, also suggest cultural inspirations still firmly based in the Seventies.

There were even glimpses of weariness in the performance. I can’t have been the only member of the audience who’d already heard Suggs’ advice on how to get home drunk from the pub by clutching at lamp posts, while their 90-minute set was shorter than many headliners’: until the second encore gave the crowd what they wanted (“Madness”, obviously) the previously warm atmosphere threatened to turn slightly sour, despite the blizzard of red petals blasted into the air during “It Must Be Love”.

It was still, for the most part, madly enjoyable. But nothing’s less mad than an old, stale idea. Recent albums have been well received without really igniting the scene with glee as the first ones did. Sad to say, but they’re in danger of becoming sane.

I can’t have been the only member of the auidence who’d already heard Suggs’s advice on how to get home drunk from the pub by clutching at lamp posts


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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