The Liberty of Norton Folgate is the ninth studio album by the British band Madness, released on 18 May 2009. The band worked on the album for close to three years and it was their first album of new material since 1999's Wonderful. The band showcased a number of songs from the new album during three concerts at London's Hackney Empire in June 2008.
This 10-minute title track recounts the social history of a corner of east London that until 1900 was controlled by St Paul's Cathedral. As a 'liberty' it was not legally independent however, merely the rights of the Crown over the land had been waived. A shortened version of the track "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" was made available on YouTube in mid May 2008. In December a boxset of the album was offered for pre-order on the Madness website; those who ordered were entitled to a digital download of the album on 20 December. Twenty-three tracks were recorded for the album, although fifteen made it on to the album to be released in May. The twelve tracks issued in the digital download leaked onto the internet on December 25, 2008. During concerts in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide at the end of March 2009, Suggs stated that "Dust Devil" would be the second single off the new album; second when accounting for the 2008 release of NW5. It was released on the 11th of May, one week before the album. A third single, "Sugar and Spice" (with slightly different lyrics and intro to the album version) was released to radio in July, and on 21 July it was confirmed that it would be made available as a download single from 2 August on iTunes and 3 August from other retailers.
In November 2009 the band announced the release of a fourth single scheduled for 11 January 2010: "Forever Young", a favourite of both fans and band. Apart from several remixes, one of the single formats contains Love Really Hurts (Without You), a Dangermen era cover of the Billy Ocean classic. The release was put back one week and the single was released on 18 January, becoming the second single from the album to fail to chart.
It was produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who have worked with Madness on all but one of their albums. Recording sessions also took place in Toe Rag studios in late 2006 with Liam Watson, who engineered and mixed Elephant by The White Stripes.
In their 30th anniversary year and a full decade after their last original album, Camden Town's very own Ska boys Madness return with the most sophisticated and satisfying album of their career.
The Liberty of Norton Folgate is a veritable opera in miniature that opens with its own Overture, wherein Mariachi brass and Cockney funeral procession waltz drunkenly hand-in-hand, before anthem-in-waiting We Are London sets the nostalgia-tinged agenda for what follows with a curiously compelling blend of the sentimental, the wistful and the ebullient.
Taking its name from a street on the edge of London's financial district, TLONF is ambitious in both scale (clocking in as the longest playing of the band’s nine-album tally) and, in its vividly populated hymnals and cautionary tales of life in the capital, sheer scope. The lightweight whimsy and plastic cheeriness of Rainbows aside, this is Dickens re-written by Martin Amis and Noël Coward re-worked by the Tiger Lillies. Put another way: it's Madness matured and at the top of their clearly revivified form.
Triumphantly reunited with producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley for the eighth time, there's more than enough on offer to please diehard fans and to surprise (and possibly even delight) staunch refuseniks of the septet's trademark nutty-ness. Don't rush here, however, expecting a My Girl or a Baggy Trousers, or anything, in fact, that has 'chart hit' stamped on it. While the reggae-tinged lead single Dust Devil and bar room piano-led Forever Young are shot through with signature jauntiness, both boast richer narratives, tellingly detailed textures and a pleasingly plangent ruefulness that underpins the whole album.
Especially accomplished is the obvious restraint employed in the many references to the youthful impetuosity of the Madness of old and the gracefully subtle, Proustian nods towards musical peers and predecessors. Adding to the obvious theatricality of it all is a well-managed barrage of scene-setting sounds – the forlorn whistle of a departing steam locomotive in Africa; evening birdsong in Mk II and, not least, the 10-minute-long opera-within-an opera that is the title track.
Think psychedelic-era Beatles meet The Mighty Boosh and The Liberty Of Norton Folgate starts to come into focus in all its imaginatively gluttinous and picaresque glory. Ray Davies will wonder at the grandiose magnificence of it all and weep at its astonishing coherence.
A magnificent magnum opus – at last – from Madness. User Comments