After a four-year layoff, Madonna returns with her highly-anticipated twelfth studio album MDNA. But is it a return to form for the pop icon or evidence that pop music has passed her by? 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review!
1. Girl Gone Wild (3:43)
2. Gang Bang (5:26)
3. I'm Addicted (4:33)
4. Turn Up the Radio (3:46)
5. Give Me All Your Luvin' (ft. Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.) (3:22)
6. Some Girls (3:53)
7. Superstar (3:55)
8. I Don't Give a (ft. Nicki Minaj) (4:19)
9. I'm a Sinner (4:52)
10. Love Spent (3:46)
11. Masterpiece (3:59)
12. Falling Free (5:13)
When it comes to pop stars, there are a countless number who have seen meteoric rises to fame and then, just as quickly, gotten tossed away, left to the wayside as the music machine moves forward. They're called one-hit wonders, flashes in the pan, flavors of the week and sometimes given even less-flattering labels. In the last thirty years there are a mere handful of acts who have stayed relevant in the ever-changing pop landscape long enough to be remembered and create a legacy that stands the test of time. One of these acts is Madonna. Often imitated but rarely if ever equaled at what she does, the New York pop singer has stayed on the forefront of pop music since she burst onto the scene with her eponymous album in 1983. While she was initially dismissed as just another pop star that would quickly fade away, she proved the critics wrong and has gone on to become the top-selling female recording artist of all time with over 300 million records sold. In the twenty-first century however, she seems to have faded somewhat from the public eye. Confessions on a Dance Floor was a major bona fide hit in 2005 and found her leaning more toward the club scene, but her 2008 album Hard Candy met with less favorable reviews and a distinct drop-off in sales. With four years passed since Hard Candy and a foray into film directing briefly set aside, she has made her comeback with MDNA, which will test her ability to stay on the forefront of pop music in a scene populated with the likes of Katy Perry, Rihanna and Lady Gaga.
For the twelve tracks on MDNA, Madonna turned largely to three producers: Benny Benassi, Martin Solveig and William Orbit. The electronica pedigree of all three is just about beyond reproach, and the pop icon puts their skills to good use here. While the first track on the album (and also the second single), "Girl Gone Wild," is very radio-friendly dance-pop the album quickly moves into a much stronger club feel with "Gang Bang." The track has a pounding beat and a moody synth sound as Madonna delivers breathy lyrics in a surprisingly dark song about a jilted woman who takes mortal vengeance on their lover. It's a startling track, both in its darkness and its preposterousness. It's the kind of over-the-top song that only someone with the confidence (or arrogance) of Madonna could pull off and she does it very well. From there it changes gears again, into a more upbeat, racing track that borrows a few retro elements and melds it with the overall techno-pop feel of the album. "Turn Up the Music" goes even poppier as it calls out for the love of music itself, with a chorus of "Turn up the radio/Don't ask me where I wanna go/We gotta turn up the radio." The latter is a generic track and not one of the strongest on the album, but it combines with the previous two in order to give a good idea of the emotional ups and downs the album has.
In truth, the album generally skews more toward the moods of "Turn Up the Music" and "Girl Gone Wild" than it does "Gang Bang," which is admittedly a little disappointing at first listen. "Gang Bang" is definitely one of the album standouts, along with the incredibly in-your-face "I Don't Give A," which can only be described as dance-rap. The lyrics of "I Don't Give A," delivered by Madonna in vocals that a bit too musical to be rap but a bit to staccato to be singing, run through her life as the pop culture hallmark that she is and has a pace that mirrors the lyrics "Iím moving fast, can you follow my track/Iím moving fast and I like it like that/I do ten things all at once/And if you have a problem/I donít give a." Nicki Minaj comes in for this one with one of the best flows we've seen from her since she showed up on Kanye West's "Monster." In truth however, it's to these two tracks' benefit that most of the rest of the album is more feel-good pop; a full album of this kind of craziness would make Gaga's Born This Way seem downright restrained by comparison. As occasional dips into inspired lunacy on the other hand, the tracks are more unique and interesting and come off as some of the better work on the album. The final two tracks, "Masterpiece" from her film W.E and "Falling Tree," slow it down and give the ballads needed to make it a complete Madonna disc.
This is not to say that the overall upbeat trend is bad. "Girl Gone Wild" is very commercial and radio-friendly, but perfectly good dance-pop. The same can't be said of "Give Me All Your Luvin'" though, with its clunky cheerleader sounds that seems almost shoe-horned in to appeal to adults who remember Toni Basil's "Mickey" and to provide Glee with something for the Cheerios to do in the next Madonna tribute episode. It doesn't help that the appearances by Minaj and M.I.A. on the song seem out of place. "Some Girls" is a good old-fashioned club single and adequate, but unremarkable. And in an unfortunate attempt to self-consciously reference herself, "Love Spent" is a good song dragged down by taking a sample from Madonna's own "Hung Up" from Confessions on a Dance Floor. Bad form, Material Girl.
Even with some uneven, flawed offerings, the album as a whole is what Madonna does best: pop music that goes down easy and delivers occasional stabs of her biting insight. That insight can fired off at what has to be her ex-husband Guy Ritchie in the previously-mentioned "I Don't Give A," it can be aimed at herself as in "I'm a Sinner" or it can be directed at more abstract target. "Superstar" has a message for fans who both expect and give too much of their idols. There isn't so much of a statement from Madonna so as to seem preachy; thirty years in the music business has given her something that sets her apart from the rest of the crowd: the experience needed to know just how much sugar to wash the medicine down with.
Standout Tracks: "Gang Bang," "I Don't Give A," "Whatever"
Skippable: "Give Me All Your Luvin," "Some Girls"
The 411: After the mostly-lackluster Hard Candy and a four-year break from the music business, Madonna returns with an album that, if not as personal as Like a Prayer or as controversially-charged as Erotica, does manage to take elements of those and combine them with the dance floor fun of Confessions on a Dance Floor. The result is an album that won't earn many converts who are against her switch to dance-pop, but reminds us why she does the subgenre better than anyone else in the game.