[Review] Madness: Absolutely (1980)

The brilliant followup to the first album, with fourteen more songs from this magnificent seven.

Kronomyth 2.0: Positively, Absolutely.

This was the first Madness album I bought and, needless to say, not the last. Absolutely is ridiculously catchy, fourteen tracks of ska-infused rock filled again with helium and good humor that deserves to be played from end to end, repeatedly. At the time, this album and The Specials and, later, Special Beat Service were in heavy rotation on my home stereo. In between, Elvis Costello, XTC and Squeeze filled in the gaps. It was a good time to be a fan of English pop.

The band’s second full-length album gets off to a joyous start with Baggy Trousers, Embarrassment and E.R.N.I.E. On the second side, the run from Shadow of Fear to In the Rain is nearly as much fun. Along the way, the band mixes it up with reggae, rock & roll and tightly-wound arrangements that threaten to snap at any moment. One Step Beyond was a great album, make no mistake, but Absolutely is a step forward in terms of musical development. You’d have to look to Elvis Costello to find so many hooks (and so many words) crammed into two or three minutes of minute.

The album ends, naturally, with a silly lounge instrumental that feels like a two-minute holiday from the banality of reality. As a teenager, Absolutely never failed to put me in a good mood. There’s no outmoded allegiance to Prince Buster here and no indication that the band was running out of ideas. It’s no wonder the band often returned to their childhood for inspiration, since they never seem to have lost that childish wonder that informs the best of music.

Original elpee version

A1. Baggy Trousers (Chris Foreman/Graham McPherson) (2:45)
A2. Embarrassment (Mike Barson/Lee Thompson) (3:13)
A3. E.R.N.I.E. (Graham McPherson/Chris Foreman) (2:08)
A4. Close Escape (Chris Foreman/Lee Thompson) (3:29)
A5. Not Home Today (Graham McPherson/Mark Bedford) (2:30)
A6. On the Beat Pete (Lee Thompson/Madness) (3:05)
A7. Solid Gone (Chas Smash) (2:22)
B1. Take It or Leave It (Mike Barson/Lee Thompson) (3:26)
B2. Shadow of Fear (Mike Barson/Graham McPherson) (1:58)
B3. Disappear (Mark Bedford/Graham McPherson) (2:58)
B4. Overdone (Lee Thompson/Chris Foreman) (3:45)
B5. In the Rain (Graham McPherson/Madness) (2:42)
B6. You Said (Mike Barson/Graham McPherson) (2:35)
B7. Return of the Los Palmos 7 (Mike Barson/David Woodgate/Mark Bedford) (1:57)

The Players

Mike Barson (vibes, marimba, harmonica, piano, organ), Mark Bedford (bass), Chris Foreman (guitars, sitar, slide guitar), Chas Smash (vocals, trumpet), Suggs (Graham McPherson) (vocals, percussion), Lee Thompson (tenor sax, baritone sax), Woody (David Woodgate) (drums, fire extinguisher). Produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette in October 1980 in the UK (Stiff, SEEZ 29), the US (Sire, SRK/M5S 6094), Germany (Stiff, 6.24 511), Italy (Stiff, STLP/1011), Japan (Stiff, VIP-6741) and Portugal (Stiff, SEEZ 29 NP) with picture sleeve. Reached #2 on the UK charts and #146 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1985 in the UK (Virgin, OVED 134).
  2. Re-released on expanded, remastered 2CD in 2020 in the UK (Salvo, SALVOMDCD06) with 30 bonus tracks.
  3. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 2013 in the US (Yep Roc).
  4. Re-released on 180g black and yellow vinyl elpee in 2020 in the EU (BMG, SALVOLP06).

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