If the definition of a good cover version is that the artist has made the song their own, then It Must Be Love is up there with the very best. With its light ska drum and bass and Suggs’ twitchy, laddish vocals, it fits so snugly among Madness‘s cockernee knees-up numbers, it was a shock to learn rather late in the day that it wasn’t in fact one of their own.
The Nutty Boys show great respect to Labi Siffre’s original, not giving it a Two-Tone bludgeoning like The Specials did with Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm or The Beat did with Tears Of A Clown. They change little, swapping Siffre’s ukelele for a honky-tonk piano in the intro and his 70s supermarket muzak for belting brass and pizzicato strings during the bridge. The former lifts the melancholy of the verses a notch or two, the latter tones down the perkiness of the chorus. As a result the song hangs together even better than Siffre’s, which is a sweet enough ditty as it is. I do miss the acoustic guitar break of the original, but this being Madness, they had to sax it up, and as Lee Thompson squeaks his way into the final chorus, you know they know what they’re doing. Siffre gave it his seal of approval too, making a cameo as a violin player in the video.
It Must Be Love would be a beautiful song in anyone’s hands, an ode to the simple joys of romance. But the message it delivers, sweet without cloying, is even more endearing coming from Madness. It’s a kitchen sink love song, a victory for romance in the grimness of early 80s London. It’s an arm round the shoulder, ‘you’re alright, you are’ from a bloke to his girl after a night in the pub. Even the pay-off line ‘nothing more, nothing less, love is the best’, trite though it should be, when delivered by the Madness lads warms the cockles of your heart.