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“If you have never heard of Doctors of Madness, you should. Musically, they are the Velvet Underground, New York Dolls with shades of glam, hippie, prog and punk all rolled into one, yet are still totally original. Vastly underrated, they should have been huge. Pure genius.” It’s not often (or at all, to be honest) that I find the comedy legend that is Vic Reeves quoted on press sheets, but here is the man himself, Jim Moir, lauding the innovative merits of Doctors of Madness. It’s also not often that I hear or read Reeves/Moir talk with any sense of seriousness… although may yourself and Bob continue spouting your perennially random, demented gibberish until your dying days, Jim-boy – you, yourself, squire, and your deranged comedy, are “pure genius”.

But just who were/are Doctors of Madness? Pure genius? No idea… they were a new name on me when this turned up for review, although I was intrigued by the blurb. They originally existed as a touring/recording musical entity from 1975 until 1978. An ephemeral career, but during that time they recorded three albums, all released by Polydor Records, and pre-empted and inspired the subsequent punk movement in all kinds of ways with their seminal music and stage antics. Described as “trailblazers, pioneers and adventurers” who were “pushing the boundaries of rock music and theatre to see how far it would go before it bust”, Doctors of Madness seems like an apt moniker for such a troupe of axiomatic iconoclasts.

So, where be they at in 2019? Reformed… kind of. Richard Strange, the band’s founder and frontman, is the primary driving force behind this new incarnation and the only original member present. However, he’s been joined by a plethora of luminaries and talented folk in resurrecting his deranged medics. So, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott sings on a few tracks, as does The Communards’ Sarah Jane Morris, and who’s described as a “young protest singer”, Lily Bud. Together with Strange’s vocals, the album’s quite a polyphonic outing; both literally, and through lyrical matter. Terry Edwards contributes sax and trumpet here and there; Steve ‘Boltz’ Bolton provides guitars; and Susumu Ukei and Mackii Ukei from Japanese glam metallers Sister Paul lend their bass and drum talents to the songs. Plus some other names… other instruments… there were many folk involved in this, albeit the results are cohesive rather than clutter. Certainly not a case of “too many cooks”.

Musically and lyrically, Strange is the man responsible, and his songs in 2019 are much as expected, based on all the teasing blurb, with mention of seething anger at the state of the world. A journo for The Guardian stated in 2017 that Doctors of Madness were “the missing link between David Bowie and The Sex Pistols”, and that rings true here… although there’s so much more at work. It seems Strange has progressed his onetime musical aesthetic into a more contemporary brooding gloom. Apt for an album called ‘Dark Times’, I guess. There are some sonic theatrics to be heard, but they’re never histrionic (in a refined Bowie sense, I guess). Songs can be a tad punky at times, in their raw emotions and Strange’s low range and spoken-word delivery, but without being overtly dissonant. Opener ‘So Many Ways to Hurt You’ has an almost brooding, darkwave/goth feel to it. ‘Walk of Shame’ sounds like early 80s Bowie with a 70s Richard O’Brien twang. ‘Sour Hour’ begins minimalist, but erupts into blissful vocal harmonies and meatier instrumentation, as if the climatic number for an unmade 70s musical. And so on. More brooding gloom and anger (culminating in the lengthy closing title track), mixed up with more uplifting numbers such as ‘Walk of Shame’ and ‘This Kind of Failure’.

So, while Strange might have progressed with his compositional aesthetic, there’s nothing modern sounding about this record. It’s thoroughly retro… but in a good way! And while retro flavours are rife throughout, it speaks to a here and now, pissed off mindset for a world that seems to become increasingly more and more fucked up as each day goes by, politically and otherwise. The songs might not hit any kind of iconoclastic heights that evidently characterised the band’s brief 70s existence, but it’s different enough to be worth checking out for those of you who like your music leftfield, but not drastically so. A masterpiece this most certainly is not, but it has some undeniable charm. I do wonder what the Def Leppard masses will make of it, though, as surely the Elliott hordes will be wanting to check this out.
Cargo Records
Review by Mark Holmes
13th Sept 2019
1) So Many Ways to Hurt You
2) Make It Stop!
3) Sour Hour
4) Walk of Shame
5) This Kind of Failure
6) This is How to Die
7) Blood Brother
8) Dark Times
"...while retro flavours are rife throughout, it speaks to a here and now, pissed off mindset for a world that seems to become increasingly more and more fucked up as each day goes by, politically and otherwise."