Wednesday, July 15, 2009

If You Think There's Something?

I recently came across a Madness B-side on YouTube. Hearing all of their singles many times before, I tend to be more interested in their b-sides these days.
For any of you born in the CD era (including myself actually), a B-side is that other song included on the opposite side of a vinyl record, opposite its A-side. This would matter for singles anyway. The single (promoted song) is on the A-side, while the decent song to go with it in order to cover both sides of the record goes on the B-side. This makes the manufacturing process much less wasteful; why not use both sides of a vinyl disc and get two songs out of it instead of producing two discs for each song? For whole albums they will put about five songs on each side, if the album has ten songs.

As I was saying before that explanation, I recently came across a B-side of Madness called "If You Think There's Something." It's the B-side of "Michael Caine."
Most of Madness's B-sides I actually quite enjoy; "Please Don't Go" is really well done, and so is "Memories." They offer a different side of Madness that's not so popularized or well-known. And in effect, they show that the band was quite competent musically. Traditionally, the B-side is the side with the song that the producers feel won't be as good or popular. So you come to expect that it won't be that good. That's where you're wrong. While there's not a lot of expectation for your average B-side, that's where Madness (in my opinion) completely nullifies the stereotype. Their B-sides are every bit as good as their A-sides.

However, finally getting to the point, this one song - "If You Think There's Something" - was completely different.
Written by Mike Barson before he left the band for Amsterdam, the song appears to be about conflicting arguments over whether "there's something." And it sounds completely, uh, weird and unusual.

The only other comment I've seen on the song is from this webpage of Madness's videos. According to the reviewer, "it seems to be about nothing at all."*

I wouldn't argue that opinion. What is it about? The furthest we get is "something." So it's about something - or not, according to the lyrics.

I tend to get most of my feelings and guesses from the sound of the music. For the most part it seems that the song has an air of forced calm and positiveness, but there's something uncertain and scary lurking about in the background. The chorus, which I can't help laughing at when I hear it, is very dramatic and fast before going off in an undecided, uncertain tangent.

It sounds similar to me reacting to the probability of seaweed in the water where I'm swimming:

If you think there's seaweed?
Could be that there's not.

As in, the first line would be me reacting to that thought in horror, then figuring, with a heavy air of unknowing, that there might be not. That's exactly what the chorus sounds like, or similar to it. By the way, yes, this means I have an irrational fear of swimming in water with seaweed in it.

In all sense, it sounds very much like the singer is trying to ascertain that things are what they are, he doesn't care what others think, that's how life is, but perhaps there are inconsistencies or tip-offs that things aren't what they are, but they really are, but it's still uncertain, and he's logical and well-meaning, but thinks there's something but knows there's not....
There we go. The song is about paradox.
Still it's not easy to grasp and comes off sounding confusing, insistent, uncertain, and it has an air of forced calmness and certainty that it fails at keeping in the second musical bars.

Still, I can't help laughing at the chorus. It just sounds really funny! Too many guitar strums!

Anyway, there's a minor mystery solved - I think. It's just an uncharacteristic song to Madness, it's very unusual. Really. Indeed.

*Eddy, Geoff. A Critical Appraisal of Madness's Videos

-Justin C.

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