March of the gherkins....
Released February 1984
The halcyon days of "nuttiness" were long gone now, Madness's albums had been getting ever more inventive, reflective and diverse (while still retaining the basic ska foundations most of the time, not much on this album, though). This was probably their least accessible album so far, with no real stand out "singalong" hits, but, as all Madness albums are, is still a good, enjoyable listen.
It was the mid-eighties and, if it wasn't layers of synthesisers, or gloomy post-punk mannerisms, it was production by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, utilising Afrodiziak on backing vocals and the TKO horns, just as they had done on Elvis Costello's "Punch The Clock". The production afflicts Madness with the disease of the eighties (pretty much every group's mid-eighties albums are questionable, comparatively, with other works).
2. Michael Caine
3. Turning Blue
4. One Better Day
5. March Of The Gherkins
6. Waltz Into Mischief
7. Brand New Beat
8. Victoria Gardens
10. Time For Tea
12. Give Me A Reason
The title track is almost funky and horn-driven but with the same typical Suggs vocals.
Unfortunately the drum sound seems more slick and almost programmed in that horrible mid-eighties style. Nowhere near as incisive as their earlier sound. This was Madness trying to go "dance-y". It is pleasant enough, but not that convincing. It is also lyrically wanting, shorn of the wry, observational wit that had become their trademark. The one hit single, "Michael Caine" has echoes of traditional Madness, although the Madness is more typical eighties stuff and not much ska to be found. It does have a great hook, though. To this day, I haven't got a clue what the song is about, however.
"Turning Blue" suffers from the same production. It does have a rhythmic appeal, it has to be said. "One Better Day" sounds like something from Sade's "Diamond Life". It is very relaxing and soulful, but turning Madness into Sade? Madness were anything but "wine bar music". The oddly, irrelevantly titled "March Of The Gherkins" is more like it - not much ska around but a familiar Madness melody and some punchy horns. "Brand New Beat" sounds just like Elvis Costello & The Attractions.
The evocative, nostalgic "Victoria Gardens" and the tuneful "Samantha" are good songs, although the waltz experiment of "Waltz Into Mischief". Overall, this was an album of its time, and although it certainly had hidden depths, it has to be said the previous four albums were much better.