Madness: Can't Touch Us Now

Madness serves up a release that disappoints while also suggesting there's still plenty of life left in the veteran band.


Can't Touch Us Now

Label: UMe
US Release Date: 2016-10-28
UK Release Date: 2016-10-27

Madness has proven itself a smart and snazzy band over the decades, even giving us a latter day classic via 2009’s Liberty of Norton Folgate. That most deft release was followed by 2012’s less exuberant but still fun Oui Si Ja Da Da,and then a four-year absence that ends with Can’t Touch Us Now. Arrivals of new collections such as this are excellent reminders that Madness can be an incredibly serious and thought-provoking band at times, and, equally, a reminder that, often, Madness has been at its best when it’s not trying too hard to be serious or thought-provoking.

There aren’t any woefully bad numbers in this 16-song set (which could have been trimmed to less Def Leppard-sized proportions to a more manageable 10 or even 12) but there aren’t really any songs that force the listener up from his or her chair and onto the dance floor of the mind. There are some cartoonish sound effects in the somewhat seductive romp “Grandslam”, a bit of audio drama tossed into the freewill vs. religion of “I Believe” and some lovely melodic maneuvers throughout. In fact, the plonking, plunking piano parts of the latter track casts the listener’s mind back to the halcyon days of the early ‘80s when the Madness lads were filled with wide-eyed dreams and even a dash or two of optimism. Unfortunately, there’s a dourness that prevails in “I Believe” and many of the others that occupy Can’t Touch Us Now, leaving the listener with a sense of musical ennui that never lifts, no matter how bouncy the beat.

“Mumbo Jumbo” comes close to giving us some levity but instead rests into an easy groove populated by armchair expert lyrics that attempt speaking truth to power but instead become stuck in the quagmire of cliché. It quickly feels stiff, forced and one step beneath the usual power that Madness wields. “Don’t Leave the Past Behind You” struts with a soulfulness that would feel celebratory if not stuck in a tempo that appears just a notch or two too subdued to make maximum impact. “(Don’t Let Them) Catch You Crying”, meanwhile, manages to strike an almost perfect balance between mood and meaning. The seductive sax work of old returns and the group seems, momentarily, to lift its head like an elderly cat to chance the toy mouse around the front room for a few minutes, reminding us that life is just a little slower, but not entirely over.

“Pam The Hawk” begs to be included in some sort of stage drama but its plodding tempo and glacially paced narrative wear the listener down before the one-minute mark. There’s an ace tune lurking in there somewhere, though it’s hard to find that tune behind the inappropriate dressings. That arrives as the back end of the LP where there’s still a treasure or two, including the would-be hit “Given The Opportunity”. The closing “Whistle in the Dark” overstates its Weill ways and “Soul Denying” suffers from having too many disparate ideas crammed into its narrow passageways.

To be fair, Madness doesn’t seem to have gone past its expiration date: This isn’t the work of a group that has nothing left to say but is, instead, evidence of a group unsure of what it should say. Should it plunge headlong into the frivolity of its youth once more? Or should it bemoan the injustices that age and a sometimes jaundiced world view demand that it sees as woefully wrong? If it could answer those questions, we might be onto a banger of a Madness record and less one that seems unequal to the British outfit’s reputation.

There are, no doubt, some bright days ahead for Madness, though when those days might arrive is difficult to predict. Let’s hope it’s soon because Can’t Touch Us Now shouldn’t be the final statement from an often mighty band.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.