Music is occasionally a purely Proustian experience: it can be evocative of periods of your life; it can open doors in your memory that you thought were long closed. It’s not always good, REM‘s Everybody Hurts just takes me back to a holiday in Jersey that coincided with a particular funeral. All I remember is intense hunger pangs (everywhere was closed) and a huge feeling of resentment.
That said, sometimes this quirk of associative recognition can be a joy. Madness are tied to many of my memories of childhood, mainly due to a seemingly endless addiction to their Rise And Fall album.
The Dangermen Sessions is Madness’ chance to pay homage to the songs that formed either part of their lives when they were younger, or that directly helped to create the sound of the band. It’s an album crammed with inspired covers. Some are well known, whilst others will introduce people to some new artists.
Prince Buster (the man whose song, Madness, the band are named after) is represented early on with Girl Why Don’t You, and just from the sound of this track alone, it is possible to see that Madness are back to sounding much the same as they did when they started the band all those years ago.
Recent single Shame And Scandal follows, and while it may not sound as dirty as the Lord Tanamo version, it stands well on its own. More importantly, it’s a song layered in the kind of grin and wink humour that Madness quickly made their trademark as the Nutty Boys.
One problem with being The Nutty Boys was that more often than not, the fact that Madness were writing classic single after classic single was obscured by a wacky video. With The Dangermen Sessions, Madness have kept the humour firmly rooted in the songs, and the wackiness to a minimum. All the smiles come from the obvious joy in playing these songs.
Many of these songs are a delight to listen to; most could easily be a single. What is most impressive is the kind of song that Madness are willing to tackle. It takes a brave band to make an entire album of covers, and an even braver one to attempt songs like The Kinks‘ Lola (albeit a take on Nicky Thomas‘ version), Diana Ross & The Supremes‘ You Keep Me Hanging On, or the Desmond Dekker classic Israelites.
Their eye for detail hasn’t been lost either, as they inject a break from James Bond into Jose Feliciano‘s Rain. Bond has long been a favourite of old school Ska bands – just ask The Skatalites.
To their credit, Madness hit the mark on most of the songs here. The only criticism that could be levelled is that on some of the ska tracks, the production is a little too clean. But that’s really just nit picking. For an album celebrates music as an historical marker, and most significantly, as great fun, The Dangermen Sessions achieves its purpose. It’s good to have them back.