Guy Sebastian has evolved tremendously since his 2003 debut as a fresh-faced boy with an afro, and nothing seems to show this more clearly than his latest album, Madness. Notching up as his seventh studio release, this blend of pop and soul with a hint of hip-hop is a pleasant surprise. I assumed it would be a commercial work designed to break the US market, as his music seems to be increasingly moulded for radio airplay. And as a long-time fan of the Sebastian, I feared it would lack the sense of joy and poignant emotion he so often embodies.
But I was wrong; because if Madness shows us anything, it’s who Guy Sebastian is as a person and a musician. And while this release will appeal to the commercial market with its catchy rifts, on-point vocals and dubstep, it also features some riveting melodies and stirring lyrics.
Opening with the title track, “Madness,” the percussion driven song defines the tone of the album. A tune about the lengths we will go to for love, it brings forth a boldness that unfolds throughout the album. The introduction is unique, and the sounds of whistling and base vocals set it up for a chorus that soars. Saying “Is it madness to give it all you got, even though you get nothing back?” this track will stay with you.
His latest single “Mama A’int Proud” featuring 2 Chainz follows and we are given a radio worthy hit about embracing your own individuality. There is a strong element of hip hop with in this track which sits beside the pop anthem in the chorus. “Like A Drum” dropped as the lead single in 2013, and even amongst 12 other tracks it still stands out. It is fun, toe tapping and will stick in your head for days. The highlight is the addition of the brass in the bridge and the cut before the last chorus, leaving us to hear Guy deliver the melody.
The piano and acoustic beginning of “Elephant” soon turns into a break down with plenty of snare. A song about a relationship that has ended but neither person has the courage to admit to, the metaphor of an elephant surprisingly works in lyrics and delivery. “Alive” has a lightness and joy to it that reminds me of Guy’s earlier music. It has stepped up in quality and musicality, and the intentionality found in the instrumentation is to be applauded. Carried by a strong beat and sing-a-long element of the chorus, this tune is a lot of fun while also being quite meaningful.
“Light And Shade” features Sage the Gemini, and we are taken to the gospel and soul sound of the South. This tune feels like a full circle reflection of the singer’s well known religious beliefs. While it certainly isn’t a ‘religious’ track by any means, the lyrics are a reflection of the journey we each go through in determining our own beliefs and owning our spirituality. Sage the Gemini is pivotal, his words, “The devil is a salesman and I don’t want it” bring stability to the track. In addition, the control in Sebastian’s vocals reflects the beautiful struggle found in the lyrics.
Partnering with his friend Lupe Fiasco for the next track, “Linger” is a synth and soul enigma that seems to emphasize the battle of passion, emotions and moments that result in us living devoid of reality. “One of Us” contains elements of big band instrumentation, and is a dramatic take on the heartbreak a person experiences in a break up. With a bluesy and soul dynamic, this is an interesting and quite cool tune.
“Imagine the Sunrise,” is a heart stirring tune about dreaming and hope. Using the acoustic guitar and strings, this is reminiscent of Armageddon’s “Big Bad World” which Guy wrote for his first child. Listening to this track will make your heart melt if only for the sweetness in its delivery. Teaming up with Fatai in the next track, “Lightning” has a driving melody that builds in intensity. The soulful tones of both singers complement each other and their harmonies will blow you away.
There is much fun to be had with “Come Home With Me,” and the upbeat tune epitomises Guy’s blend of soul and pop tones. Mixing a dance back beat with a horn section; this track is exactly what we’d expect from the singer in its eclectic instrumentation and catchy vocals. “Animal In Me” keeps this tone going with a cheeky and quirky sound. Keeping with the theme of being true to yourself, this feels like a more pop version of “Mama A’int Proud.” Finishing up with “The Pause,” we are left with a beautiful ballad that highlights the vocal capabilities of the singer.
Irrespective of Guy’s previous success as a musician, Madness stands alone as a solid, fun, and moving album. Showing diversity in vocal delivery, song writing, style and theme, this album seems to reflect intentionality to every aspect of its creation and production. Due to this, Madness it will be a hit with fans old and new alike, and is potentially Sebastian’s strongest release to date.