Madness - Can't Touch Us Now

Review: Madness – “Can’t Touch Us Now”

As a huge Madness fan, I must confess that the announcement of a new album from the Nutty Boys always sparks a tiny sense of worry as well as anticipation. With so many classic songs in their back catalogue, will the new ones meet the required standard? It’s difficult to imagine such a thing as a disappointing Madness album, but the nagging doubt is always there. Still, with a title like Can’t Touch Us Now it would seem that the band themselves are assured of their place in the pantheon of pop legends and are not about to let us down.

That said, despite the triumphalism of the title, things don’t get off to a particularly jubilant start. The opening title track should be a classic Madness stompalong yet sounds somehow jaded, with just an insistent Mike Barson piano part holding it together as Suggs struggles through a rewrite of Elysium from Wonderful and Lee Thompson honks and squawks as if having trouble clearing a fish out of his instrument. This leads into the deceptively named Good Times, with its world weary “Where have all the good times gone?” refrain, and it’s not until the welcome arrival of Mr Apples (channeling the spirit of the knicker thief from In The Middle Of The Night back on One Step Beyond) that things start to feel like a proper Madness album.

That difficult opening period out of the way, things settle down with some of the band’s most gratifyingly mature performances to date. Not in the same way that Keep Moving was “mature” though; there’s genuine emotion in tracks like You Are My Everything, Soul Denying and the desperately poignant Amy Winehouse tribute Blackbird. Upbeat moments like Mumbo Jumbo and lead single Mr Apples are few and far between; make no mistake, this is not a “Nutty” album, there’s a distinctly reined-in, dare I say professional feel to the album as a whole. It’s tempting to attribute this restrained behaviour to the absence of Madness talisman Chas Smash, but there are some genuinely sensitive moments here that aren’t far out of step with the melancholy of Smyth’s solo set A Comfortable Man.

Reunited with Clive Langer after the multi-producer melange of Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da, many tracks sound like a deliberate attempt to recreate the band’s live sound as accurately as possible. Despite several nods to the band’s heritage (the cheeky throwback to “propaganda ministers” in Mumbo Jumbo, the Ian Dury referencing “cleaners” / “misdemeanours” rhyme in Herbert) this is very much a modern Madness album – there’s even a stray drum machine on (Don’t Let Them) Catch You Crying. At sixteen tracks it’s perhaps a little overcrowded, or at least it could do with some resequencing for a stronger opening, but it seems wrong to complain about having too many brand new Madness songs. Rearrange your playlists to put Mr Apples first and Good Times somewhere in the middle and you have a strong, confident set of tracks that deserves to win the band a new generation of fans as well as satisfying the faithful. They may not be completely untouchable, but they’re on a very high ledge and pulling themselves up fast.

Related:  Off The Chart: 10 March 1982

8/10