Madness never disappeared but they faded away, spending years playing summer festivals and other oldies venues befitting an act specializing in nostalgia -- an impression that 2005's covers album, The Dangerman Sessions, did nothing to assuage. All this makes The Liberty of Norton Folgate, the band's first album of original material in ten years, and their first in more than a quarter-century, feel fully realized, even surprising. The element of surprise is not in the music, which is firmly within the 2-Tone tradition they laid down in the early '80s -- and indeed, is produced by their longtime collaborators Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley -- but rather that they've found a way to deepen their nutty sound, to offer nothing less than a mature, middle-aged spin on Presents the Rise & Fall. Like that 1982 new wave classic, The Liberty of Norton Folgate is about London and steeped in classic British pop, using the Kinks as ground zero for a series of wry, keenly observed pop songs about the people and places in London Town. Madness never try to update their sound -- they never dabble in electronica or ragga -- instead they dig deeper, finding new musical wrinkles within tightly written three-minute pop tunes and stretching out on the astonishing title street that concludes the record. While Madness may be trading on the sound that brought them to the top of the charts, it never sounds like a vain, desperate stab at reviving their youth; they play and write as the middle-aged men they are, finding sustenance within the music of their youth, then adapting it to their lives now, finding as much mirth as melancholy in what they see. Also befitting a middle-aged Madness, The Liberty is an album of craft -- so much so that the album has no such stand-out hit single as "Our House," but then again, those were different times -- but the true testament to the value of that craft is that The Liberty of Norton Folgate is as rich and rewarding in its deluxe double-disc incarnation as it is in its simpler, single-disc set, something that speaks volumes to the extent of the band's unexpected revitalization here.
The Liberty of Norton Folgate Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine