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Review: Madness CD offers carnival of sounds and characters

This cover image released by UMe shows
This cover image released by UMe shows "Can't Touch Us Now," the latest release by Madness. (UMe via AP) ORG XMIT: NYET500 (AP)

“Can’t Touch Us Now” is an invitation into the Madness carnival of sounds, brimming with intriguing, colorful characters.

One of the most British of bands and some energetic concert performers, Madness bring the goods in familiarly entertaining fashion, sustaining the strong resurgence on their third album since 2009.

Having long expanded from their ska-punk beginnings, the band is deft in a wide array of styles and rhythms, blending pop, soul and reggae. The lyrics carry plenty of whimsy and nostalgia and if the tunes drag a bit here and there, there’s enough energy to feed the festivities.

Songwriting duties of the 16 tracks are spread out among the band, now a sextet after the departure of Chas Smash.

Lead singer Suggs contributes touching portraits of Amy Winehouse (“the voice of fallen angels”) on “Blackbird” and of a legendary West End homeless woman on “Pam The Hawk,” whose “toothless smile laughs like a machine gun” as she pours her coins in slot machines.

The album’s first single was “Mr. Apples,” a less sympathetic but wholly believable depiction of a wholesome citizen by day who spends his nights on the wrong side of town.

“Herbert” is a terrified ode to a prospective father-in-law who happens to be a preacher and has a shotgun to make sure his daughter is honored correctly. The Ian Dury-like rhymes (hotelier/derriere, Herbert/sherbet) amplify the fun.

Dressed in top hats and dark capes, “older and gray” they may be, as the slightly lunatic “Soul Denying” describes, but Madness can still be counted on to please. On “Mumbo Jumbo” they even dust off the old ska rhythms.

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