I don’t really understand some of the more mediocre reviews that have met with this album, but I suspect that it’s feasible some of those critics have spun the album just once before putting pen to paper. And as those of us with a long term affiliation with the band will attest, you just can’t do that with Madness. Quite a few folk were alarmed, lest we forget, when they released The Rise And Fall back in 1982, and deemed it their “dark” album, conveniently overlooking the fact that it’s predecessor, 7, was probably even bleaker. What I’m saying is that you should treat any new Madness album like a new lover – spend time with it, get to know it, learn its little quirks, try to understand what makes it tick. Then slowly, it will reveal more and more of itself to you until you eventually become perfectly comfortable in each other’s company. “How can you refuse half my kingdom I offer you?” enquires Suggs on the jaunty title track that opens the record, “And in return all that I ask is you walk with me.” Well yes, Mr. McPherson, that’s pretty much what I was getting at.
Can’t Touch Us Now may not be as immediate as the album that preceded it, the largely singalong Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da, or quite as innovative as their much celebrated 2009 album The Liberty Of Norton Folgate. But to dismiss the new material for either of these reasons is both lazy and somewhat churlish. The playful Madness of old is evident on at least a third of the tracks, such as the wonderful ‘Mr. Apples‘, with the same shimmering stomp of 1983 classic ‘The Sun And The Rain‘, the reggae-Western of the delightful ‘Grandslam‘, full of innocent charm and the nonsense lyric “Grand slam, are you everything we hope we am?” (which made me chuckle, I must admit), and the instantly infectious typical ska beat of ‘Mumbo Jumbo‘. If anything, Can’t Touch Us Now bridges the gap between the brilliant 1984 release Keep Moving and its band-on-the-brink-of-implosion follow up Mad Not Mad.
It is though, perhaps, those moments where the band try something a little different from whence the greatest wealth of riches can be drawn. Daniel ‘Woody’ Woodgate and his brother Nick’s ‘Good Times‘ is rather like something that may have been put out on the classic Stax label back in the day, and ‘Another Version Of Me‘ contains the kind of affectionately ingenuous prose that one may have expected of the late Syd Barret (“I’ve got a dog, I’ve got a cat / I’ve got my coat, I’ll get my hat“. Then the boozy closer ‘Whistle In The Dark‘ can only be described as an update of their own ‘Waltz Into Mischief‘ if it had been penned by Tom Waits.
The beauty of Madness, however, has always been their ability to shoehorn sinister themes into seemingly innocuous songs. Just read the words to the superb ‘Blackbird‘ or especially ‘Herbert‘ for confirmation that the band, for now, are a long way from losing their ‘touch’ just yet.
Can’t Touch Us Now is out now on Lucky 7 records.