This ironically peppy set of '80s pop would prove to be Madness' final studio album, and the band was clearly not in the best of moods while they recorded it. Their previous album had suffered the weakest chart showing of the band's career, and they had recently lost their founding father figure (keyboardist Mike Barson). They had left their record company, setting up their own "Zarjazz" label. Like the Beatles' Let It Be, this record has "One Last Stab" written all over it. The album opens with a bitingly overt declaration of the band's determination to hang on in the cynically mercurial music business ("I'll Compete") and concludes with one of many images of an inevitably approaching ending ("shivering to a halt...no one wants to speak too soon, although we all knew"). Several songs dwell on themes of transience and aging ("Time," "Yesterday's Men, "), and the title track openly broods over the sting of Barson's departure. The album almost seems to fortell its own lack of success. Its ultimate failure to reignite the group's popularity might be blamed on the slickly synthetic over-production. Clive Langer and Alan Wistanley occasionally strike an inspired balance between soulful pop and subtle reggae rythyms, but more often they replace the warmth of Barson's pianos with a cold emphasis on drum machines and synthesizers. Some of the songwriting, however, is on par with the band's most mature work, and the lively melodies lend a perfect irony to the band's wry social commentary and personal brooding.
Mad Not Mad Review
by Darryl Cater