Mad Not Mad is the sixth studio album by the English ska/pop band Madness. It was originally released in September 1985, and was their first official release on their own label Zarjazz, which was a sub-label of Virgin Records. The album was recorded over a period of two months in 1985, at Westside Studios in London, and at Air studios also in London. The album is generally regarded as the culmination of the smoother, more adult-oriented sound of the band's later work. It features three prolific guest backing vocalists, including the female duo Afrodiziak (composed of Caron Wheeler and Claudia Fontaine), and Jimmy Helms. The album is notably the band's only album not to feature their keyboardist and founding member Mike Barson, who had left the group the previous year to spend more time with his now ex-wife Sandra in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Barson's keyboard parts were filled by synthesizers and Steve Nieve joined the band to take his place. Two years after the album Madness disbanded, but Barson did join them for the recording of their one-off single, "(Waiting For) The Ghost Train". The album was their last recording of original material until they officially reformed in 1992. The album peaked at No. 16 in the UK charts, and achieved silver status from the BPI. However, the album remains the band's poorest selling studio album to date. It featured the songs "Yesterday's Men", "Uncle Sam", and "Sweetest Girl" which were all released as singles, with corresponding music videos. The three singles that were released all reached the Top 40 in the UK charts, however the latter two failed to make the Top 20, which was a first for any Madness single. The aforementioned "Sweetest Girl" was a cover version of a song by the British post-punk/new wave band Scritti Politti.
On release, the album was received favourably by the majority of music critics, although opinions have become much more negative in subsequent decades. And after only a few weeks of its initial release, the writers of NME listed this album at number 55 on their list of the "100 Best Albums of All Time". The band themselves have been quite vocal in that they were less satisfied with the album. In a BBC Radio 1 interview in 1993 their lead singer, Suggs described Mad Not Mad as "a polished turd" (referring to its distinctively glossy mid 1980s over-production by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who had both produced all of Madness' work since their debut). However, NME are still favourable for the album, including it in their 2015 list of "50 Albums Released in 1985 That Still Sound Great Today".
The album was re-released in the United Kingdom, in October 2010 on Virgin featuring rare bonus content. The reissue was a 3-disc set which comprises a 14-track with the original album digitally remastered from the original 1/2" mix tapes; alongside three bonus single remixes and '(Waiting For) The Ghost Train'; a Bonus 10-track CD including demos of all the album's singles and their respective B-sides; plus a Bonus DVD containing all the music videos for the singles as well as live performances from five BBC TV shows. It also features liner notes written by comedian and Madness fan, Phill Jupitus.
The band expresses both their feelings and private problems and addresses political issues over the course of the album. They touch on politics on "Burning the Boats", but also on a maturing disenchantment with the youth culture on "Yesterday's Men". It also features the satirical track "I'll Compete" which acknowledges their declining popularity and sales with the lyrics "Let us hurry now, time is catching up", and also exaggerates on them maturing with the line "I'm five years closer to my pension scheme".
Mad Not Mad was met with a lukewarm reception, especially on adult contemporary radio, being criticised for its over reliance on slow, dark and downbeat songs. The album was preceded by the song "Yesterday's Men" as the first single, reaching No. 18 in the UK. The album itself was released weeks later surprisingly only going to No. 16 in the UK, though it still went silver there. The track "Uncle Sam", released in October 1985 peaked at No. 21 in the UK (in a disappointing chart performance considering the lead singles from their previous albums were Top 20 hits in the UK). The third and final single, "Sweetest Girl", peaked at only No. 35 in the UK.
In a retrospective review for AllMusic, critic Darryl Cater wrote of the album "Clive Langer and Alan Wistanley occasionally strike an inspired balance between soulful pop and subtle reggae rhythms, but more often they replace the warmth of Barson's pianos with a cold emphasis on drum machines and synthesizers. Some of the songwriting, however, is on par with the band's most mature work, and the lively melodies lend a perfect irony to the band's wry social commentary and personal brooding." And reviewing for Record Collector critic, Terry Staunton wrote of the album "The Nutty Boys were veering towards an altogether gloomier form of nuttiness when this album first appeared in 1985. The wacky humour of old, already on the wane in their previous outing, Keep Moving, was almost totally eclipsed by sombre tones of resignation, best exemplified on the single Yesterday's Men." And The New Rolling Stone Album Guide wrote that the album "finds the lads sinking into [an] unseemly self-reflection".