When One Step Beyond... came out in 1979 I was at the very height of an aversion to pop music, I was aware of two-tone and the ska revival because it was all around me. Cobham was full of these new skinheads, my friends and family dressed in smart black and white togs and pork pie hats. My reaction against this was extreme.
Over the following years I grew to appreciate a lot of the music and bands of that time (The Specials, The Selector particularly) but Madness appeared to be the quirky, syrupy, twee nonsense that I couldn't stomach. They seemed too much of a "comedy band" and not serious about their music and this has meant that they are the band from that movement that I have continued to resist to the present day. Madness are one of the few bands that still have me reaching for the off switch.
But... they're a London band with very London sensibilities and I've decided that for this reason they deserve a serious reassessment.
First shock is just how well I know this album, not only because of the singles but tracks like Land of Hope and Glory, In The Middle of the Night, and Bed and Breakfast Man. I guess growing up surrounded by this music meant that it reached me despite my resistance. It still wanders far too close to comedy too often (and Suggs's vocal sometimes still rubs against me), but the good songs are surprisingly good and the arrangements and production are wonderfully rich.
I guess I'll have to concede that my prejudice against Madness was a little unfounded - and, given the familiarity of this album, it has possibly been festering and growing when I really ought to have been ready to open up and embrace it. I'm ready now.
My Girl... is a treat:
Here's Mike Barson talking about it: