Monday, February 8, 2016

MKII

Tonight, I tried an old song on for size. This song is ancient for me. It was on an album released in 2009.

I say that with real intentional irony considering around 98% of the songs I review on here are decades old, yet new to me as I come to listen to them. In terms of this song, MKII, it was written and composed by Madness. I haven't written any reviews on Madness stuff in over a couple of years - probably longer.

My focus on the one British ska band has become increasingly diluted since 2012. I almost never really listen to them much anymore. I got my own car and began listening to boom 99.7 all the time, and the rest is history. I welcome this change, as when I did a search to see if I wrote any previous review of this song, I didn't find anything but constant mentions of Madness over and over. It sounds over-the-top altogether like that. Obsessive.

I want to review MKII now because I heard it on a whim and, as I normally do these days, I got intrigued by the musical processes at work, which I never dived into nearly as much five-six years ago. And it is a pretty good song.
I'll quickly go about the lyrics and tone first: It sounds warm and sad at the same time. There's a loneliness to it and you get the impression the lyrics reflect the past rather than modern day. Synesthetically, the song is largely golden yellow in the piano-driven intro/outro and the guitar-driven middle. The melody works very nicely and the lyrics tell a simple, carefree story.

Now the music. It's one of the few Madness compositions to follow that common, popular 1-5-7-4 progression in the piano melody (in A minor), though what makes this variation of it refreshing and Madness-like is Mike Barson's preference for minor chords all throughout except in the third G chord. A minor, E minor, G major, and D minor. i-v-VII-iv. All of Barson's chords are played broken and likely inverted, and on his second round of the chords, he adds a D and a B during his broken A minor, and a C and A on his broken G major. His left hand continues ahead with the root notes while these extra notes are added, making a nice harmony. This varies when Suggs begins his lines, but not too much. The drums are very minimal, only coming in big bursts during the heavy guitar body of the song; they're used sparingly to save them for that spotlight.

The rock aspect of the song differs from the easygoing introduction and verse. The key switches to B flat major, with a procession of I-V-II (B flat, F, and C major). This is just a semitone up from the A minor of the rest of the song. I've read that that kind of progression change is common in Madness songs. It should have been easy to play on sax considering it is a B-flat instrument. This goes on, with the bass complimenting Sugg's voice (E-F-E-D-C-B flat), for about four rounds, before returning back to the A minor key in a symphony of drums, guitar, organ, piano, low bass, and sax. Now it's shortened to a i-v-VII progression, with the piano keeping to the first and third chords only. What I particularly noticed at the end of this climax is how low, cold, and distant that ending D minor sounds. Mark Bedford must have tuned his bass down so that his E string was rather a low D string. The chord/note is obviously supposed to be the angry, betrayed fadeout. It has definitely been viewed as a very sad chord from what I've read. I've seen it as rather cold and distant instead of sad. Not there, out of it, couldn't care less. All instruments except the sax end on this note.

The final resolution of the song is a repetition of the line "he starts the Jaguar and drives away" which has a finality to it, and a repetition of the piano line with a nicely added guitar accompaniment. As the piano plays one last time, ambient noise is filtered in, as if you're hearing the quiet scenery left in the wake of the departing car.

As for the band itself, Madness released another album in 2012, three years after The Liberty of Norton Folgate on which 'MKII' was recorded, and since then they've been touring. Mark Bedford, the bassist, took a leave of absence during that time, only returning to play with the band at the 2012 Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the closing ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics (for the first time ever I got to see the band live on my own TV that day). Their last album, Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da ('Yes' in numerous European languages) took an apparent back-to-basics approach, and after listening to it, I decided I only really liked one song ('Small World'). Post-release, backing singer Chas Smash (Carl Smyth) left to pursue a solo career, releasing his debut last year or the year before, and lead singer Suggs wrote an autobiography and began hosting a music-integrated live show centred on his life. I look on their website now and then, checking on the question-answer page hosted by guitarist Chris Foreman sometimes, and I may write to ask his opinion of any new demos I upload to SoundCloud (he's always impressed at my progress on the guitar or piano, etc.) That's about it.

I'd recommend a listen to 'MKII' as a good old-fashioned-sounding song of apparent sadness, but I wouldn't go crazy listening to the band for a decade like I did...unless you're willing to not talk singularly about them all the time...like I did...

Red Cloud
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