“MDNA” – Madonna

3 stars (out of 5)

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Picture of - Madonna Mdna: 2cd: Deluxe Edition
Will MDNA contain Madonna’s first number 1 single this decade? She’s had at least two for the last three the last one being in 2007 with ‘Hung Up’. But does it even matter? This album is the equivalent of a can of Coke, an I-Pad, a pair of Converse; not because it’s disposable necessarily but because it’s a product designed to sell in shed loads because of pure brand loyalty and in the music industry there is no bigger brand than Madonna. The digital pre-order for the album alone has made I-Tunes history with the most copies ordered in one day and immediately sent it to number one in 50 countries over the world, and at that point nobody had even heard it. Buy tickets for her upcoming tour and you’ll get a copy of “MDNA” thrown in for free; regular or deluxe? You decide. Her passion is now film making (her second film W.E. currently standing at 12% on Rotten Tomatoes) but, in her words, music ‘pays the rent’. Ok then. She doesn’t even seem to want to talk about the music referring to the influence for this album as ‘having fun, forgetting your troubles and turning up the radio in a fast car’. So is there any reason to see this album as anything other than a product to promote a tour that will probably make more money than the last, which was the highest grossing tour of all time? Her first scent (why now? that’s not the name of it by the way but maybe it should be) is also out next month and then some specially designed shoes under the brand name ‘Truth or Dare’ (that’s the name of the scent too). Is the music anything other than corporate pop and is anyone really listening anymore?

There are some great songs here. ‘Turn up the Radio’ had already been recorded but not released by Sunday Girl and Martin Solveig and Solveig produces 3 of the songs on the main version of the album including this. The production’s a bit flat and muddy and desperately tries to recapture the energy and vitality of the sonically similar ‘Hello’ that Solveig produced for Dragonette (and surely the reason Madonna hired him) but “Turn up the Radio” is a huge song which should have been the lead single and will sound great on the radio (oh yeah!). ‘I’m Addicted’ is a twisting, slippery synth monster that gets more out of control the longer it plays with Madonna referencing the drug MDMA (recently asked what she would you never do, Madonna replied ‘drugs’) before it morphs into a chant of the album’s title; MDNA. It works as it sounds like peak period Madonna (‘All of the letters push to the front of my mouth, and saying your name is somewhere between a prayer and a shout’, a fantastic Madonna lyric on a lyrically dire album) and it authentically evokes the feeling of being in a nightclub at 4.00am in the morning, probably not with the people you arrived with 6 hours earlier, just as Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”, an obvious influence, did some 35 years ago.

The horribly-titled “Gang Bang” (a phrase thankfully never said or sung in the entire song) is the oddest thing here. The longest track at nearly 6 minutes long it’s a dead eyed spoken performance of sadistic revenge with repeated use of the word ‘bitch’ over a thudding minimalist beat, a guitar riff and a techno synth line. It has the most successful use of a dub step break (worst example would be the lyrically embarrassing ‘Superstar’ which features daughter Lola on backing vocals) but is hard to love. William Orbit, one of Madonna’s most successful collaborators has a co-production on this track and is also responsible for 4 other songs including an homage to Abba’s “The Visitors” album, the one proper ballad ‘Falling Free’ (sung in her posh Evita voice) and the ‘Ray of Light’-ish ‘I’m A Sinner’ and structurally complex ‘Love Spent’. Her vocal style, although sounding heavily manipulated on every track including the ones where it’s not meant to, changes for the better when she records with Orbit singing in a higher more emotionally charged register instead of sounding like she’s struggling with a sinus infection as she has done on her last couple of albums. But these songs are neither Madonna’s nor Orbit’s best and certainly not in the same league as the elegant, haunted ‘Frozen’ or bombastic ‘Ray of Light’.

The two lead singles are probably the worst things on here; the completely generic ‘Girl Gone Wild’ in particular is aiming at a demographic that won’t want to know as they are many (many) other performers in that field that they can actually relate to, who are the same age as them and Madonna’s most childish song since Material Girl, ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’ (‘L.U.V. MADONNA, Y.O.U. WANNA?’)” feels wholly inappropriate and depressing at this stage in her career and it’s hard to understand why she’s so desperate to ape popular musical trends that already borrow so heavily from her in the first place and sell them back like an inferior copycat. And ‘Beautiful Killer’ is a lovely album track and will probably become a personal favourite of many fans but it’s only available on the deluxe version. So it’s a bit of a mixed bag then.

I remember the excitement surrounding the release of Madonna’s Ray of Light album in 1998. Her previous two albums (the r ‘n’ b influenced, uneven “Bedtime Stories” and the almost career destroying, not very ‘Erotica’ album) sold way less than anything she’d released before and presented a once supremely confident superstar as uncertain and dubious of committing to the music that she was now producing. With William Orbit, a resolutely non-showy British musician and producer, Madonna seemed to have found her musical soul partner. She appeared to have a very real attachment to the record and to Orbit and was considered to be her most creative and interesting album since 1998’s “Like A Prayer” and it was deservedly a huge hit. For the follow up she continued to work with Orbit but he was overshadowed by French producer Mirwais whose “Music” album is like “Ray of Light”‘s even stranger, more introverted sister and Madonna seemed very much at home and relaxed in this world. However with the release of the commercial and critical failure ‘American Life’ album, something to scare Madonna and introversion and experimentation was replaced by Stuart Price’s filtered disco and Abba-sampling “Confessions On a Dancefloor” which took Madonna back to the top of the charts. It was all a bit hen party come provincial gay club and since then there seems to be a resting on the laurels of the Madonna legacy; she began to acknowledge herself as The Queen and working with superstar American r ‘n’ b producers who were well past their sell by date.

Madonna continues to be a fascinating artist but not necessarily for the right reasons anymore. Ask anyone what they think about her now and their response will usually be along the lines of ‘She looks amazing, she’s so fit’ or ‘She’s too muscular, she’s had too much surgery’. These comments may be sexist and a reflection of our appallingly youth focused era but Madonna appears to be as obsessed with these things as we are and that was never what she was about. It would be great if people started to respond to and talk about the music again but unfortunately if the Queen continues to make albums as dreary and unimaginative as this one then maybe the time has come for her to finally bow out. If we used half-stars, I would take one off this 3 rating.

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