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fun-loving ska stars are back to their best

Madness Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da (Cooking Vinyl)

Nutty. Not nuts.

They've got more tribute acts working the live circuit than any other living band, but the north London originals can't be cloned.

Not even by themselves. Indeed, following a fractious break-up after the release of their sixth album, Mad Not Mad, in 1985, some of them tried.

But the world needed this band who'd brought a sense of surreal fun and dancehall abandon to a world burdened with the sturm und drang of new-wave earnestness. So, after a few years, the self-styled nutty chaps reformed for a wing-ding in Finsbury Park.

Dreading the possibility of a reheat of a once-powerful force, I saw them at Wembley. But, by Jove, it was a spiffing knees-up. Madness were better than ever live. Subsequent studio output was less successful.

Not until the release of the ambitious The Liberty of Norton Folgate in 2009 did we learn their creative alchemy had been rediscovered.

Now it's like they were never away. In the year of the queen's jubilee, Our House became Buckingham Palace. The Olympic Games were staged so that Madness could perform at the closing ceremony.

A few months ago, the band dropped Death of A Rude Boy for free. An atmospheric ska-inflected narrative, it threw in a full-tilt rap section and demonstrated that the band still have the smarts.


Covering all stylistic bases, from One Step Beyond to Baggy Trousers, must be difficult. But, this time out, Madness acquit themselves admirably. Never Knew Your Name is glorious bittersweet singalong pop. Unmistakably Madness, it feels like a time capsule from an era when classic pop was inventive and spontaneous. If there's any justice, it'll be a monster.

La Luna, a lavish tango that mixes Max Bygraves and Los Lobos, must surely become a highlight of Strictly Come Dancing. They've a conscience, too. Circus Freaks is a poignant expose of loss and desolation on a dead-end street.

With a leap and a bound, Madness are back to their best. HHHHI