It could be as simple as my favourite album from my favourite band. That would be enough. But there’s more to it than that.
Madness were my first musical love, right at the very beginnings of my individual musical identity. I picked up their early retrospective, Complete Madness, when I was eleven, on the back of heavy radio play of their early hits Baggy Trousers, It Must Be Love, and Driving In My Car. It was love at first listen. The ska beats, the frenetic saxophone work, the energy, the darkly sly lyrics…… I was smitten, and have remained so ever since.
But, after a while, it felt like the band had done everything that they were likely to do to win me over. I’d stayed with them through their gradual transformation from ska gods to perfectly balanced popsters. I’d collected the albums, played them to death through cassettes to LPs to iTunes playlist. They were permanent fixtures in my life, a walking Greatest Hits medley to be recalled and smiled at on a whim. Furniture, with a sense of excitement about them equivalent to a comfy beanbag.
Then, out of nowhere, a conversation with the late Paul Haines brought me to an album I’d somehow missed: this one. It’s not like I had any real excuse. 1999 wasn’t an especially convoluted or difficult year. There were no great upheavals or moments. No reason I should have passed this album by. But, somehow, I did. I rectified the error, settled back, hit the play button…
And was entranced. Put simply, this is the perfect Madness album. From the whimsy of Lovestruck, to the high energy madness of The Wizard, to the bittersweet Johnny the Horse— a song that struck me so hard I’ve used the opening verse as my header on the now-deceased Battersblog and this very site ever since– to the sublime meeting of pop gods that is the Ian Dury-guesting Drip Fed Fred, it’s the Madness album I didn’t know I was waiting for. It rekindled my truly deep love for the band and their work, topped off by finally getting to see them live in 2017: a lifelong dream realised, and one immortalised with a new tattoo, so it will always be with, and on, me.
So, yes, my favourite album from my favourite band. But it’s also the moment that a long-simmering love affair reignited (to mangle a metaphor), and for that, it will always be just that little bit special to me.