Live albums are a hard lot to judge sometimes, simply because what works for one person will not often work for another. Some people enjoy hearing crowd noise as part of a live performance, while others prefer a more aseptic soundboard recording, so that more subtle changes from the studio setting can be heard. Not only that, but if a group releases a live disc with virtually no improvision or difference between their studio tracks, it's also very frustrating.
While the majority of the songs on the album come from the groups Philophobia release, they also include a couple off their debut The Week Never Starts Around Here as well as a couple single releases. Not only that, but several of the tracks have received a good working-over, including the album opening "My Favorite Muse." While Aidan Moffats dreary voice staggers through each song quite beautifully, this first track has been raised a few notches and given almost a dreamy quality with lots of shimmering guitars and piano accompaniment. Quite possibly better than the original. While "Packs Of Three" sounds nearly the same as the original, the loud instrumental part at the end of "New Birds" sounds even more blistering in the live format.
After anothing shimmering track in "Toy Fights" and a great version of "Here We Go," the group performs two amazing non-album tracks. One is the drum machine plunker "Phone Me Tomorrow," while "Girls Of Summer" is stretched into an 8-minute epic. The album closes out with the male/female vocals of Moffat and Adele Bethel on the dreary "Afterwards." The back-forth vocals provide some nice tension and the end is much more noisy than the original, coasting things out on a loud (if not particularly upbeat note). Still, this is Arab Strap, so what were you expecting?
For me, Mad For Sadness is great in terms of both capturing a live performance, as well as the sound of the group. While there is crowd noise included on the disc, the only time you can hear it is in-between the tracks themselves (or perhaps that was the only time they made any noise?) while the recording of the vocals and instruments are nearly spot-on studio quality. Not only that, but there is just enough of a changeup in the sounds of the songs (from a variety of releases) that makes the disc worth having if you enjoy the group.