The third album is often where a band makes a great leap forward, and so it is with Madness’ Seven
. Although they’re still clearly the same nutty band that tore it up with One Step Beyond
finds the group expanding its horizons considerably, ratcheting up the melodious pop quotient in their songwriting, as well as the distinctly English character sketches. Much of the album comes across as a blend of the Kinks
and Ian Dury
backed by a propulsive ska beat, and the production is a appropriately just as imaginative, colored by the odd sitar, finding new carnivalesque flourishes for the horns, and expanding the rhythmic palette considerably. Sometimes, the group still gets ridiculously silly -- “Benny Bullfrog” is a novelty by any other name -- but the genius of Madness
is that they would toss off these frivolous numbers as easily as they would throw out something as elegiac as “Grey Day,” while finding the sweet spot between those two extremes on singles like “Cardiac Arrest.” Not every band possesses such a light touch, and while they certainly got more refined just an album later with The Rise & Fall
is where they revealed the full potential of their talents.