Another Madonna studio album, another one with another lukewarm reaction from the fans. After the majesty of “Confessions” I can see why people would be disappointed, and I felt a little of that too.
But on the other hand you should be grateful for what it is. For me, it’s another selection of great pop music, not nearly as close to the ‘Madonna does Urban’ tagline that people feared it might be. Pharrell and Timbaland have both demonstrated in the past that they are more than capable at making decent pop music, and I think this is as good an example as any.
Of course there are some cringey moments, but she was a 50 year old woman, at some point our ideas of what is cool are going to diverge from hers. She is a much-loved icon, and despite this it seemed the fans never want to cut her some slack, or heaven forbid create some music she actually wants to make.
08 Candy Shop: OK it’s a bit of an iffy one for an opener but this has grown on me a lot since release. Admitted the majority of the confectionary-based puns are totally awful, but I like the simmering beat and the tune itself is alright. I actually liked this better in the Sticky & Sweet tour, which is impressive as I didn’t really rate the SkyOne broadcast much at all. MY SUGAH IS RAWWW. It may live on more in fan infamy than anything, but I’m getting a soft spot for it.
09 4 Minutes: It’s no “Hung Up”, but what is? It’ll be interesting to see how much this persisted in the general public consciousness, since it did do pretty well globally, with worrying signs that it might end up being her last global hit. I love it but I have overplayed it. That brash brass sample does a lot of the legwork, and Justin is a welcome addition to the mix, I can’t imagine it without him (OR HER before you start). The video was great if a little disgusting with those people getting chopped up and everything, but I really like the whole package.
09 Give it 2 me: An oldie but a goodie now, and the much criticised 2nd single (but aren’t they all?). I really loved this, I still do, perhaps more so than “4 Minutes”. OK the songwriting has its moments of despair but the music always raises a smile, and the obnoxious synths in the chorus just really make it for me. The video was pretty useless, but I never held that against Sorry (did I?). GET STUPID, GET STUPID! I’m not above indulging in the odd trainwreck, and there’s a fair scattering of those moments in this one. But it’s FUN.
09 Heartbeat: Best intro of the album, before turning into a generic-o-rama Nelly Furtado song. But when those stuttering synths get back in for the chorus all is well again. A real highlight. See my booty get down like UNGHH … this album just keeps delivering on the iconic soundbites doesn’t it?(!)
10 Miles Away: Old lord, what a mess they made of the single release. I just need to forget about that, the song itself is immense, my favourite from “Hard Candy”. She may be in her fuzzy dreams again, but the meaning is unmistakeable in the real world, as I can’t imagine this not being about her failing marriage. Lyrics are a bit nursery-rhyme but the production is spot-on. 5 years ago this would have been a tepid acoustic ballad with a vocoder, so is this progress? At the 4 minute mark it fades out, and this immense beat comes back in, LOVE IT.
08 She’s not me: An inital highlight of the album for its totally pissed-off jilted lover lyrics, in stark contrast to Miles Away. After a time this song faded for me a little, apart from that unexpectedly immense aside at the 2:10 mark which made me nearly pass out the first time I heard it. It might have lost its impact subsequently, but still a lot of fun. Best bit of “Sticky & Sweet” with the Madonna lookalikes, and that fan-made tribute video was awesome too.
08 Incredible: And bringing up the rear (and the lunch)… I have warmed to this a bit despite seemingly everyone hating this. The sex stuff could really have been avoided (story of her life) but there are some great moments here. The opening Caribbean bongo stuff, turning into turgid rock but then mental amazing spazz-fest synths at the 3:00 mark. I AM MISSING MY BEST FRIEND… still, it really did NOT need to be the longest track on this album.
10 Beat goes on: How was this not a single? I mean really. Kanye whored himself out to everyone at that time, couldn’t he have taken a half-day off for a Madge video shoot? Anyway more of a disco feel here, such a catchy chorus, especially when the synths return, and that middle 8… Well she is still having problems with waiting and anticipating, but I agree that the Kanye rap was not worth waiting for, apart from that jelly noise for the second half of it. But still, HOW WASN’T THIS A SINGLE?
09 Dance 2Night: I’m taking it to the club … GO! I love the beat on this, simple but powerful. Verses are a bit wimpy but the bridge and the chorus are awesome. 80s-tastic, and leads into that incredible final act at the 4:05 mark. I really wanted to see a video for this, DANCE BREAKDOWN. J.Lo would have done it, why couldn’t Madge? Think of the vagina exposure she could have had (actually, please don’t). Totally sexy, love this.
07 Spanish Lesson: Time for a siesta … the first time I feel a bit iffy about this project since the opening track. But Spanish is a wonderful language, and as retarded as this whole song it, I have some fondness for it (I don’t know why). Really ropey though. Seeeenoritaaaaa *croak*
08 Devil wouldn’t recognise you: I love the glacial opening bars, but after that I feel like I DO recognise this already. However this does have a bit of gravitas at least, it’s not a bad song and stands out from the rest of the more upbeat uptempo numbers. Doesn’t feel like she’s got enough conviction in the delivery, but always good to have some rain effects to hammer the point home.
09 Voices: JT back again, I quite like his role as recurring backup singer on this album. Ronson-esque beats for the album closer with some really interesting tunes in it, that bridge is just spooky and brilliant. The “who is the master” motif is a great harmony, and it all just has a bit more atmosphere than “Devil..” did. The clanging bell at the end is an amazing closer, I just wish they’d used a real one – the final clang sounds like someone dropping a steel pipe. Decent idea though.
07 Ring my bell: The iTunes & Japanese bonus track just about deserved a mention too. Irritated-sounding spoken intro. It’s a bit sparse, with only the choruses making much of an impact. Is that a sleigh bell I hear on percussion? Bizarre. Spiky and harsh generally but I don’t hate it. Rather this than “Spanish lesson”. That weird “Yuh! Yuh!” sample makes me think of a 90s Sega game or something.
So that’s that! I was concerned I was over-marking, and I’m sure more than a few of you will think I have. But saying that, this is a strong album for me, I can listen to it from start to finish without wanting to skip anything (except “Spanish Lesson” if I’m not in the right mood, like sober).
If this is Madonna not trying, then I’m not that worried about the future. I could understand her apathy for “Celebration”, it was a contract-finishing GH that should have sold itself, but she evidentally just wanted rid of Warners. I don’t believe that feeling of running out the clock was enough for her to mentally check out before “Hard Candy” was made.
The songwriting is lazy in places but then it’s not the first album I could have leveled that criticism at. “Madonna goes Urban” could have gone down a lot worse than this, I feel like people haven’t given this enough credit.