Their farewell single after 21 Top 21 hits! 'Ghost Train' features the return of pianist Mike BarsonWell, when the subject crops up of bands who were active in my childhood and used humour and entertaining videos to get some interesting subject matter over... well, you can't not mention Madness so it's good timing for them to turn up here. Good timing doesn't mean they were having a good time though, and by the middle of the decade the strain was starting to show as the singles weren't going Top 10 any more. Barson seems to have been a key figure in keeping the septet into some sort of order and after he'd left the remaining six obviously weren't having so much fun.
So they finally decided to split up, which called for a second best-of collection (Utter Madness
to follow Complete Madness) and this new single. Tellingly, I have no memory of hearing this at the time at all, and when I did first encounter it (on a boxed set my dad bought at a car boot sale in the mid-90s) I wasn't keen. Over the years I've grown much fonder of it, the only Madness hit written entirely by Suggs (unless you count 'Forever Young', which peaked at 199 in 2010) which is apparently a song about apartheid in South Africa; I'd never have guessed but you can sort of hear it when you're looking out for it, especially in the chorus "It's black and white, don't try to hide" and in the accent with which he sings certain lyrics. Although the track was, like every other hit they had in the 80s, produced by regular collaborators Langer & Winstanley, it does sound decidedly of-its-time, dominated by brittle-sounding drums and synthesisers and a phasing effect that sounds a bit like they were playing about. Arguably they could have put more effort into the structure of the song than messing about with the gimmicks but I suppose they were losing focus a bit. Still, the song is strong enough to shine through and has the advantage of not being as overplayed as the big Madness songs.
Also appearing on: Now 1, 2, 3, 6, 21, 43
Available on: Mad Not Mad