Sound — 6
Though not as prolific as their initial run, the revival and second phase of Madness in the mid-90s has taken its steps slowly and surely throughout the past decade. After 1999's "Wonderful" officially broke the 14-year streak of silence since the band's previous album, 1985's "Mad Not Mad," it would take them ten years to write their next album of original material. But seeing as that resulting album, 2009's "The Liberty of Norton Folgate," was their most ambitious work in a while, it was worth the wait.
Since then, Madness's activity has picked up the pace. Following up "The Liberty..." more promptly with "Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da" in 2012, it didn't try to replicate the theatrical grandeur of its predecessor, but its leaner approach still managed to harness a captivating variance in songwriting. Now on their eleventh studio album, "Can't Touch Us Now," Madness strive for length once more, with this album being their second-longest to date - only falling short of "The Liberty..." by literally one second.
But as opposed to the ambition heard clear in "The Liberty...," the abundance brought forth in "Can't Touch Us Now" come much less intriguing. With the lot of their sonic repertoire rinsed once more, the sixteen songs divvy up between a handful of strong tracks and a majority of filler material. As the banjo-tinged "Mumbo Jumbo" and the intertwining piano/guitar melodies in "Good Times" make for the strongest representatives of their ska side, other ska cuts like "I Believe," "Don't Leave the Past Behind You," and the eponymous song dawdle in comparison. For their classical-influenced side, "Given the Opportunity" boasts the most exquisite orchestral arrangement, which duly highlights how restrained the arrangements in "Herbert" and "Whistle in the Dark" are. And with better songwriting skill shown in the modulation of the soulful "You Are My Everything," and the multiple phases in "Soul Denying," the simple, two-riff cycles in songs like "Mr. Apples," "Catch You Crying" and "Pam The Hawk" feel even more like throwaway efforts.
Lyrics — 7
Numerous bouts of lyrics in "Can't Touch Us Now" continue the love and life subject matter heard in "Oui Oui...," like the missed connection in "Blackbird," and the proclamation of unconditional love in "You Are My Everything," to the simple live and learn message of "Don't Leave The Past Behind You," and the rekindling of an old flame in "Soul Denying." But as opposed to the previous album's lack of political lyrics, Madness bring that side of them back this time around, spanning from institutionalized religion ("Oh, I know I caused an outrage in my Sunday best / But I decide on my belief, and you can have the rest" in "I Believe"), and gambling addiction ("She'd be the richest woman in all of the west end / If every single penny earned she didn't spend / In the bookies, on the horses, the Wardour Street arcade" in "Pam the Hawk"), to haranguing the political elite for their dishonesty ("You promised us the pudding but never the proof / A cathedral of deceit to sodomize the truth" in "Mumbo Jumbo") and hypocrisy ("The righteous truth, he never tells you no lies / But when that old sun go down / He's heading off to the wrong side of town" in "Mr. Apples").
Overall Impression — 5
Whether hoping to recreate the success of "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" by similarly appealing to significant size, or simply opting not to waste anything from the recording sessions, "Can't Touch Us Now" is an example of bigger not necessarily being better. With the strength of a few songs being diluted by larger portion of skippable songs, the album suffers for its quantity-over-quality output.