Madness

The Business

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Madness's first box set is a well-annotated three-CD gathering of every single A-side, B-side, and 12" bonus cut that the Nutty Boys unleashed throughout their original 1979-1986 lifespan, bolstered by a clutch of radio jingles and flexi-disc-only cuts that render this both the definitive portrait of Britain's most consistent hitmakers of their generation, and the ultimate Madness rarities collection. That much of the collection had never previously appeared on CD (or even LP) goes without saying -- the sheer quality of songs whose apparent obscurity might otherwise have written them off as mere throwaways will thrill anybody seeking a simple "best of" collection but still wanting more than the regular hits collections provide. Even at their silliest (a brief rampage through "Release Me," a ska-skipping rendition of "Swan Lake," the Halloween daftness of "Visit to Dracstein's Castle"), Madness's fingers were firmly on the quality control button, and those are simply highlights, not exceptions. There's scarcely one duff moment on the entire package. Of course, Madness's greatest strengths come shrieking into view. "Driving in My Car" (and its "Riding on My Bike" counterpart), "Behind the Eight Ball," and, of course, "House of Fun" and "Our House" are spot-on compositions that readily ally Madness with the likes of Ray Davies and Mark E. Smith in the realm of totally "English" songwriters whose underdog's eye view of English working-class life and lore sees them transform the most mundane preoccupations into moments of majestic accomplishment. An added attraction comes in the form of spoken interludes from a variety of bandmembers, friends, and associates -- lawyers, accountants, record company execs, and studio engineers included. None of them drop anything earth-shattering into the conversation, but they add immeasurably to the documentary feel of the collection.

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