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Friday, 19 November, 1999, 21:53 GMT
CD Review: Madness
Madness - Wonderful (Virgin)

By the BBC's Chris Charles

What on Earth is going on? The end of the century is nigh and everybody's partying like it's...1979.

Let's look at the evidence. The Clash have just released their first live album, Blondie are on tour with Squeeze, Liam Gallagher et al are prancing around singing Jam songs, and now this - the return of the "Mad-nificent Seven".

By now you'd think the Nutty Boys would have evolved into sensible, middle-aged men - not a bit of it.

Nutty as ever: Suggs
One look at the album sleeve confirms this. The waistlines may have expanded and the hairlines - in some cases - are showing a little more daylight, but the stances and expressions are as nutty as ever (more in the lunatic asylum sense of the word, it has to be said.)

But more importantly, this is not a sorry case of sad old fools despearte for one last pay cheque.

In fact, Wonderful finds the boys in their best form since 1981's Madness 7.

All memories of Suggs' awful solo homage to his beloved Camden Town are banished from the moment you hear the opening strains of Lovestruck - a right old Cockney knees-up of a tune which locks its drunken orator in a loving clinch with a lamp-post. We've all been there - haven't we?

Current single Johnny The Horse is a little more low-key, but the party gets back in full swing with The Communicator - a good old-fashioned Selecter-style ska skit on which Suggs cries "all aboard for the Madness nation" through a paper and comb.

A welcome trip down memory lane
For those whose feet did not so much as twitch during the original two-tone revolution, no amount of eulogizing will persuade you to buy this album. The rest of you should dust down those crombies, polish those trilbies and enjoy it for what it is - an unashamed nostalgia trip down memory lane.

But it's not all chirpy, up-tempo tunes and cheeky grins.

4am, with its good-time piano and sympathetic sax could become the My Girl of the 21st century. "It's four in the morning, why don't you call me?", sighs Suggs. Probably because it's four in the morning, at a guess.

Then there's the groovy If I Didn't Care, complete with barber shop harmonies, No Money - basically a renovation of Our House - and the McPherson-penned Saturday Night Sunday Morning, the album's only weak link.

Essentially, though, Madness have always been about comedy and the feelgood factor that disappeared during their first reincarnation - when they imaginatively plonked "The" in front of their name - has returned.

This is perfectly illustrated on Drip-fed Fred, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to an EastEnd villain, brilliantly portrayed by the inimitable Ian Dury. "We want Freddie for our leader," they chant, as he promises: "We'll take pity on your souls and only cap your knees" - Vinnie Jones eat your heart out.

So there you have it. The house of fun is back open for business and you'd be well advised to take a peek inside. It would be Madness not to, after all.

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