(Pssst… I did a review on the deluxe edition tracks too, if you’re into that. LINK!)
The time is finally here, Madonna’s got another album out (or will do next week anyway). I’d like to say it’s hotly awaited, but it seems even the most optimistic fan seemed be to peeping nervously through their fingers at what passed for the opening campaign. So far this has consisted of an impressive Superbowl performance (so far so good), leading to another record-breaking top 10 hit in the USA. Though sadly it wasn’t to be a big hit, leaving the Hot 100 5 weeks after entering. In the UK the picture was even bleaker, her first single to miss the top 20, by some margin too, peaking at No.37.
It was to get worse though, as a hastily-issued second single Girl Gone Wild bombed comprehensively. In this baffling digital age, I’m not sure where it’s been released, so maybe things will miraculously turn around, but in the US at least, it missed the Hot 100 entirely. Despite the release of the video this week, it looks like a pretty disasterous launch. While I might not think Girl Gone Wild is a great launch single, “Celebration” at least did well in the UK so we’ll have to see what happens if/when it finally gets released.
So finally against this rather apocalyptic backdrop we find ourselves with a whole album. I loved the dance direction of Confessions, and loved the brazenly tacky Hard Candy for the most part, so what would MDNA be like? Well the force of the dance producers brought into this (including Martin Solveig and Benny Benassi, responsible for the first two singles respectively) defines the landscape, sometimes steering it into generic club tracks, other times into a tutti-frutti mix of wry theatrical dance tracks that wouldn’t have been out of place on Gaga’s “Born this way”. Shall I just get on with it?
07 Girl Gone Wild – I LOVE that intro and segue into the main song, it’s fascinating. I don’t know why though, she’s so robotically insincere and just spouting nonsense. A common theme on the album is “songs that sound better than their titles” and this is a good example. This is really growing on me despite a flat chorus and a generally faceless feel. It puts me in mind of Benassi’s remix of “Celebration”, no coincidence there since he made this too. Could have been made by anyone, but it’s not as bad as first thought. Video is wonderful too.
09 Gang Bang – Seriously, this is a song title? That thumping beat really is delicious though, I love the production, it’s just her and the beat. Deadpan delivery of the lyrics and some ridiculous sound effects. Why “Gang bang” and not “Bang Bang”? State of the art production, sounds like that Tomkraft single from nine years ago! Love it though, and it distracts nicely from what was presumably meant to be a provocative of killing an ex. On paper this doesn’t sound anywhere as good as it is. That last hysterical segment really is treading a line between great and cringeworthy though, DRIVE BITCH, and while you’re at it, DIE BITCH! I can totally imagine this as a big moment in the tour, can’t you?
10 I’m addicted – Oh God now we’re onto something. More minimal synth backing, very ‘now’ I’d imagine (I’m not cool). This just feels so well put together, especially when we get these dance explosions for the sort-of-choruses. A real grower, pulsing and wonderful. The best bit of this (and possibly the album) is that “M.D.N.A.M.D.N.A.” outro for the last minute, just feels like this album has ARRIVED, perhaps this should have been the opener. Part of me wonders how amazing this album would have been with Stuart Price at the helm again, but let’s just be grateful for what we have.
08 Turn up the radio – Mooted by some as a choice for a campaign-saving single, they need SOMETHING to stick, don’t they? This is a lot more mainstream, a pretty mundane idea for a song, just enjoying music and listening to the radio etc. Lyrically you aren’t missing much, but again the production pops and whizzes at all the right moments and we end up with a pretty upbeat track, it’s just a shame it hasn’t got anything to say. Doesn’t feel like a Madonna single from recent memory though, she hasn’t run out of things to say has she?
10 Give me all your luvin’ – So that much maligned lead single up next. Considering how different this is from Girl Gone Wild, both songs seem to fit in their positions well, and this seems like a much better idea for a single than things like Turn Up The Radio, particularly with the Superbowl tie-ins in the video, and the cheerleading refrain in the song. I really love this, it gave me plenty of reason to look forward to this album at least, even if this feels like a bit of an odd-one-out. Nicki fits well (now MOOOVE!) but MIA is a feature credit too far but I’m used to it now. Bubblegum pop that’s (again) saying nothing in particular but it has something Madonna about it at least.
08 Some Girls – Back to tha cluuuuubzz. A monotone shouty intro over some truly obnoxious synths, but slowly blossoms into a pretty solid dance track, albeit a bit of a filler track. Reminds me ofa track off Gaga’s “The Fame” (I know I know, but I had to mention her, reductive or not). More focused again on the dance production than the lyrical content, but at least it succeeds on the former, it’s a pretty wonderful throbbing track, and that breakdown really does highlight that William Orbit is back in the mix.
04 Superstar – Oh dear God, what is THIS!!? How could this happen? Maybe it was supposed to be like Teenage Dream, but the ROBOVOCALS are back, dead-eyedly reciting some lyrics so bad I wondered if Vogons had written it. Really appalling, even Des’ree would be rolling her eyes at this one. “ooh la la you’re my superstar, ooh la la I love the way that you are”. Utterly tedious and wafer-thin, how could this HAPPEN? That emotionless roll-call of superstars makes you wonder how this woman ever made “Vogue”.
08 I don’t give a – Oh my, she wants to swear, doesn’t she, naughty girl! Sigh, can’t she just do it? More automated vocals in a bland version of the American Life rap (that I love, I don’t care what anyone else says). I’m surprised anyone else wanted to share writing credits on this. It does perk up after about 1:30 when the production beefs up, and we reach some mid-track interval for some variety. Nicki does a competent job and doesn’t feel shoehorned into the action. I know she can swear like a trooper though, why the restraint, girls? (Have you HEARD Roman’s Revenge?). Defining moment here is that spooky choir and dramatic orchestral swell near the end, but it’s a bit too desperate to be a moment. It still sounds pretty good though.
07 I’m a sinner – Really starting to chew over old glories now, and the most brazen of these ‘homages’ is this recycling of Beautiful Stranger. Psuedo-psychadelic chorus production courtesy of – oh look who it isn’t – William Orbit (original producer of Beautiful Stranger). It’s decent enough but I’m heard Beautiful Stranger too many times for this to excite me too much. Beefy production but something just doesn’t work for me like it should.
08 Love Spent – A rather unexpected banjo moment segues into an 8-bit synth bed, it’s not a bad setup really, and this is the first track for a little while that doesn’t remind me of a past (and better) Madonna moment. Oh wait, there’s that bit that sounds suspiciously like “Hung up” but it’s over before you quite realise it’s happening. A bit of a directionless “try all the keyboard settings” feel to some settings, but it’s all good. Lyrically she’s trying a bit harder here, wishing her lover was less materialistic (a bit rich coming from her, but let’s just go with it). The falsetto is perhaps going to stymie future live performances, but let’s see.
09 Masterpiece – Oddly fits relatively well on this album, considering it was originally from that W.E. film she made. She even won a Golden Globe for this, can you believe? (Elton can’t). I still childishly smile when I think she’s saying “If you were the Mona Lisa, you’d be hanging in the loo”. Her vocals are quite nice on this really, I do wonder what she sounds like, autotune seems to have infiltrated every song so far. She’s at least trying to ‘properly’ sing, and it’s a pretty classy affair. I mentally treat this as a bonus track, but really it fits quite nicely. The song is a little flaky but certainly listenable and a much stronger track than some of the iffy efforts I’ve just listened to.
06 Falling Free – Ballad time? Oh just stick it at the end. So this confused album comes to an end with a pretty beatless slow song. It’s a bit nothingy, but her vocals at least sound quite nice, its just a bit… I don’t know. There isn’t a very engaging chorus (if there’s one at all), and that stop-start shimmery effect kills this momentum. Nice enough but a bit of a damp one to go out on. Oh God, please leave that guitar ALONE!
So there we have it, not really a common thread in this album, generally dancey but dabbling with producers past and present has left a curiously identity-free experience, except for a few early tracks like Gang Bang that nobody else would really TOUCH. I love Madonna, and this album hasn’t done anything to change that, there is plenty to listen to, and who knows, maybe it’ll click with me one day and I’ll love it.
I do worry about how well this is going to go if she’s only going to do one bit of promo (even if in this case it was a big one). I just think she’s always on the verge of some world-beating megasmash, but I just don’t see it happening this time around (but please God, give this bitch a hit). I’m very excited that I have Golden Circle tickets for her show in Hyde Park in July, so let’s hope she doesn’t stick too much to the current album. A bad sign perhaps, I just think she’s done better.
Keepers for the iPod: Girl gone wild, Gang Bang, I’m addicted, Turn up the radio, Give me all your luvin, Some girls, I don’t give a, Love Spent, Masterpiece (well, it IS Madonna).