Uncle Sam was the closest Madness came to the old ‘nutty boys’ sound of their early hits on their sixth studio album Mad Not Mad. “There was a point where we tried to change the public’s attitude to us. We didn’t want to be seen as the wacky lovable ‘nutty boys’,” said Woody in a 1985 interview for Record Mirror. “We tried to get a more mature impression across; it was time people realized that a lot of our songs had different nuances. We were concerned with not rejecting our younger audience but we also wanted the whole spectrum of record buyers.” Unfortunately, they did seem to have alienated at least some of their audience, as Uncle Sam was the first Madness single to fall short of the Top 20, albeit only by one place.
Mad Not Mad came over 18 months after its predecessor, Keep Moving. “We got a little bit embittered about the whole thing. We were releasing so many singles, doing the same things, meeting the same people; it almost got to the point where it wasn’t interesting and it became a dirge,” said Bedders of the hiatus. It wasn’t just fatigue, of course, as the departure of Mike Barson meant that there was groundwork to do to facilitate the creation of another album – but there was time for much-needed rest periods. “The year off was like a holiday, even though we did a lot of reorganization and work,” said Woody. “You’ve got to come back refreshed and recharged”. Nevertheless, Mad Not Mad “took the longest of all our albums to make which is odd as we were better prepared than ever before,” according to Bedders. Woody thought that this was because “in the past we’d leave certain things and say that Mike would cover that. Now we’ve all put so much energy into getting the thing right and democratic and making everybody happy.”
Although regular producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley returned for the album, this time there was a greater reliance on vogue studio techniques than there had been before. Madness had found an effective replacement for Barson, as far as keyboards were concerned, with Steve Nieve, former member of Elvis Costello’s The Attractions – but there was a greater reliance on synthesizers this time. Similarly, drum machines and programming limited Woody’s role in the studio. The new sound of Madness was very ‘professional’ and slick but it just wasn’t as fun. The reception to the album was neither good nor bad, the critics seemingly recognizing the work that had gone into the recordings while finding little to take pleasure in, and therefore taking a neutral view. The Smash Hits view – 7/10 – was as representative as any: “… the older and wiser Maddies are still well capable of delivering fine pop songs with or without the guidance of the departed Mike Barson. Mad Not Mad varies in tone from the determined beat of I’ll Complete to the mellow percussion of Yesterday’s Men, both indicative of the gap between Madness old and new. There are occasional glimpses of the familiar slapstick, most notably on the chirpy Uncle Sam, but in main what we are offered here is a sort of mixed pop/soul style which suits Suggs and Co. down to the ground.”
It wasn’t just in the studio that the group were more professional. “We do better deals,” said Chas of their business affairs, citing as an example: “We get Afrodiziak to sing backing vocals on our album and they get free studio time in return.” He said that the “idea behind the Zarjazz label is simple: to sign good acts and to provide a fair deal.” The changes, the band claimed at the time, had reinvigorated them. “It’s as exciting now as when we released One Step Beyond, with Mike leaving and the record company changing,” said Thommo. “It’s going to be interesting to see how it turns out – if we’re accepted by the changing face of pop. If it works, all very well. If not, then we’ve all had a good crack.”
The autumn of 1985 was a useful early indicator of how the “new” Madness might fare in that changing face of pop. Christmas was usually a good time for Madness albums: there was usually a small surge in sales immediately prior to the holiday (presumably as they were bought for stocking fillers) and then in the New Year (presumably as Christmas money and vouchers were spent). Absolutely had been a fixture of the Top 20 over Christmas 1980 and New Year 1981; Madness 7, having fallen out of the Top 30, returned to hover around the Top 20 over the holiday period of 81/82; The Rise And Fall sat comfortably at #11 for three weeks as 1982 gave way to 1983; and the compilation album Complete Madness, which was originally released in April 1982 and which had spent 20 weeks in the Top 20 then, made a sudden jump back there at the start of 1983 after a four month absence. But even an October release date couldn’t help Mad Not Mad: it was in and out of the charts by the beginning of December. Although during that time it was certified silver by the BPI, it was less popular commercially than the similarly-certified Keep Moving. That album had spent nine weeks on the chart in the Top 40 in a 19-week run, while Mad Not Mad had spent nine weeks on the chart in total, only two of which were spent in the Top 40.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Oct. 14
ADAM ANT Puss’n Boots (CBS CBSA3614)
The BELLE STARS (Jennie McKeown) The Entertainer (Stiff BUY187)
NEW EDITION (Bobby Brown) Is This The End (London LON35)
Gary NUMAN Sister Surprise (Beggars Banquet BEG101)
ARCADIA (Simon Le Bon) Election Day (Odeon NSR1)
Kate BUSH Cloudbusting (EMI KB2)
Ian DURY Profoundly In Love With Pandora (EMI EMI5534)
MADNESS Uncle Sam (Zarjazz JAZZ7)
ORCHESTRAL MANŒUVRES IN THE DARK La Femme Accident (Virgin VS881)
UB40 Don’t Break My Heart (DEP International DEP22)