Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Calling Cards

Here comes the time for a new review on a song - and it's a Madness one.

The song 'Calling Cards' is an interesting little album track from their album 'Presents the Rise and Fall.' I first heard it years ago when I acquired a branded 'best of' CD under the '20th Century Masters' name. I'd never heard the song before prior to that, and why it was included on that CD (as it's not on most of their 'best of' or compilation discography) I don't particularly know. I'd approach the 20th Century brand in finding the answer, they put it together...

It opens with a sort of urgency. the piano gets more high-pitched and insistent. It's an easy-paced song that sounds similar to a sales or job pitch.

I don't listen to it much anymore, and it's not a remarkable song, but it's kind of funny in retrospect and does the job in getting the message across, what it's all about.

According to Lee Thompson on the old Madness website (before it was revamped and re-launched and the 'What's it all about?' pages on the songs disappeared) it was about "credit card fraudulency." He'd also said it 'goes hand in hand with 'Are you Coming (With Me)' in some ways.' Seeing as that song is about trying to pull someone out of a rut and waste due to drug addiction, that could work.

The lyrics tell the story from a fraudster's point of view. It's like he's giving you a pitch to come and work for or with him. It accentuates secrecy and intentional law-breaking, pointing out the 'firm of naughty boys' and having nothing to do 'with the constitution.' It also seems to be talking about the success and growth of such a corrupt company, i.e., "my twins work Brighton on a sunny day, they cover town with a shake of a hand" and "I need you and your returns to help build my company." Halfway through, and twice, the names of many banks are shouted out, such as the Midland Bank, Peoples' Bank, Bank of Scotland, etc. etc....followed by serious, pointed laughing.

It basically talks of working for a lot of money in a dirty, corrupt way, and it's very cheery and convincing.

I tend to enjoy the piano the most in the song. It sounds kind of dark but also cheery and poignant at the same time. The music is professional and well-executed as usual, and I find the focus of the song don't see that very often, I think. It's one of the things about this band: Their songs focus on so many things, they're very well-rounded. Most bands talk about love and loss and politics, which is cool but can get too predictive and monotonous. Of course Madness have done the same many times, but I can still find a song they wrote for almost every occasion, and fit their lyrics into what I'm going through at any given time. 

What most people fail to realize or look at is that beneath all that nutty humor, that party-like sound, there's a dark seriousness that points out the maturity and world-view of the band. The best example of this is their song (and only #1 hit) 'House of Fun.' Anyone listening to it right away, without much interest or real focus, would decide that it's a loony, almost kid-oriented circus/party song. It's joyful and ebullient, bright and honky-tonk. Even the lyrics sound fun and innocent. But anyone who knows the deepness of a Madness song and knows to listen to the lyrics, anyone who gave the band real thought and made the effort to focus and listen closely instead of writing them off as a silly nutty outfit would see that it's about a kid on his 16th birthday attempting to purchase condoms (age of consent is 16 in Britain) but is having trouble due to using party paraphernalia slang terms, confusing the chemist (pharmacist). That's where the lyric "This is a chemist, not a joke shop" comes from. And that's a serious topic that can be analyzed and discussed.

But going back to 'Calling Cards,' it's the same thing. I think the song's a pretty good one - not great, not something I'd want to listen to every day or even every week, but a good effort and well-written lyrics. The piano is the centrepiece of that number.

Music: B
Lyrics: A-

The only version on YouTube is the 'R1 Studio Session.' It's not the proper song and it doesn't have the laughing in the middle, but it's essentially the same thing, only a demo.

Not bad, not great, but good. I'd give it a listen - it's interesting.

Justin C.