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REVIEW: Madness – ‘Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da’

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It’s been 33 years since Madness put out their first album, One Step Beyond…Since the band’s inception, they have made an immortal name for themselves in the ska world. They have trade marked their unique sound with lead vocalist Graham “Suggs” McPherson’s voice, Mike Barson’s mastery on the piano and keyboard, and a vicious horn section featuring Lee Thompson on saxophone. Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da presents Madness in all of their splendor. They produce an array of entertaining and fun songs that I will delve into below:

The album opens with “My Girl 2”, which boasts a psychedelic, 60s pop sound. The live instrumentation and keyboard give the song a feel similar to that of “Green Onions” by Booker T & the MG’s. I feel like “My Girl 2” was a great opener for the album, and although it might not get you skanking, it will certainly keep you from sitting still.

“Never Knew Your Name” is 70s disco song that seemingly found its way onto the album. The style is executed perfectly with flowing strings and a powerful, rugged sax solo. The song is arranged well because it is delicate, yet simultaneously full of attitude.

If it’s not clear that Madness is presenting themselves in a different light, “La Luna” drives that point home. This song has a sensual, Latin groove coursing through it. “La Luna” brings an amount of fun to the table that reminds me of what it is that makes Madness such a great band. They’re not afraid to use key changes, varied backup instrumentation, or complicated horn lines to keep their songs interesting. This song features a great horn/vocal soli with a drum breakdown behind it, and its transition between styles only further emphasizes what separates Madness from the rest of the herd.

“How Can I Tell You” is the feel good anthem necessary for any ska album. If you are a true lover of ska, this song will get you dancing in no time. Graham McPherson delivers a positive message about communication and unconditional love while the rest of the band plays with a burning energy. The sax and guitar bounce ideas off one another to keep the song pushing until the end.

“Kitchen Floor” is a dirty blues jam from the get go. Mike Barson and Lee Thompson combine on keyboard and saxophone to emphasize the laggy, eerie feel present in the best of Madness’s dub songs. Everything in “Kitchen Floor” compliments each other, from the horns, to the groove, to the lyrics. Overall, this song is just that classic raunchy dub ska sound that Madness has perfected over the years.

“Misery” has a good time old rock feel with a twist homage to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony thrown into it. The song is about not keeping misery as company, and reinforces that sentiment with a happy 2-tone rhythm.

The seventh song on the album, “Leon”, almost sounds like a testament to ELO, focusing on McPherson’s voice accompanied by a punchy piano. “Leon” is a very upbeat song and features well developed harmonies that keep the song moving. All in all, “Leon” is a very solid arrangement. The horns provide emotion and add a fullness to the song that highlights Madness’s song writing prowess.

“Circus Freaks” is a pop-esque song that conjures up visions of David Bowie. The rolling grand piano, saxophone, and singing represent the circus freak aspect to the song, painting each verse with a relentless attitude.

Bring out the rude boys and rude girls for “So Alive”. The 2-tone rhythm provided by the horns and piano are classic Madness ska. This song definitely had me skanking around the house. Music-wise, McPherson sits in the upper half of his range, giving his voice a sound similar to that of Dr. Dog’s Toby Leaman.

“Small World” sports a very mysterious driving bass line. The song has a very psychedelic feel, and the female vocal accompaniment adds an extra element surrealism to it. The piano and swelling horns in the song exemplify what sets Madness’s sound apart from anything else on the market today.

“Death of a Rude Boy” is easily my favorite song on the album. If you were looking for a down right rotten dub ska song to get down to, this is it. Haunting vocals I thought only Oingo Boingo could produce initiate the song, leading to an ominous dub ska beat that trudges throughout the track. The song has a great New Orleans funeral feel to it, and images of heavy feet drudging through muck come to mind as this song lurches forward with force until the last beat.

“Powder Blue” is definitely a song to bring the lighters out for. With a dreamy ambiance set by the keys and piano, the lyrics call for the listener to imagine slowly drifting into the powder blue.

“Black and Blue” brings the album to a close with a classic ska sound that Madness has built their career on. Through a certain lens, this song could easily be a reflection on Madness’s career. The lyrics mention that they have made it through the years, and although they’ve gotten black and blue, they’re not about to slow down a good thing.

Madness has produced a very strong album that is interesting, varied, and extremely entertaining. Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da brings an energy with it that I haven’t heard in a good while. Any fan of classic Madness will not be disappointed by a lack of saxophone growls and 2 tone beats. The album hits the shelves on October 30th, and I highly suggest that you pick it up, pick it up, pick it up.

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