Wonderful [Remastered]

by: Madness

Madness officially disbanded in 1986, but the members never seemed content to call it quits. Finally, after 13 years, six singles collections, five "Madstock" reunion concerts, three ill-fated spin-off attempts, two live CDs, and two box sets, the boys worked up enough courage to celebrate their 20th anniversary with their first new album since Mad Not Mad. Pianist Mike Barson was back, of course, but the real returning heroes were producers Clive Langer and Alan Wistanley, whose sure-handed pop sensibility is all over the record. Though these '70s ska pioneers might have benefited from the success of '90s ska bands like Blur, No Doubt, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Smashmouth, Wonderful is not really a ska record. "The Communicator" and "Drip Drop Fred" (which features guest vocals from fellow Stiff Records alum Ian Dury, to whom the record is dedicated) are the only songs that seek to approximate the old, nutty sound. The rest harken back to the slickly orchestrated pop of early-'80s albums like Keep Moving and The Rise and Fall. If tracks three through 11 don't quite live up to the promise established by the two irresistible singles "Lovestruck" and "Johnny the Horse," they don't embarrass either. Among the best are "4am," a slightly more expensive version of one of the better songs from Suggs' solo career, and the typically self-referential "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning," which likens the band to "thieves returning to the scene of the crime." On the whole, it's a pretty successful return. Some fans might find the bombastic production somewhat cloying, but it undoubtedly delighted Virgin Records, which seemed sure to jump at the chance to release a few more greatest hits compilations. ~ Evan Cater

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