Madonna – MDNA
Madonna – MDNA
The last time Madonna checked in was with 2008’s Hard Candy, an album that worked to update her sound but, in trying so hard to do so, sounded limp and lifeless. Ironically, only a few months later, Lady Gaga released The Fame, a star-making, blockbuster pop record that built its success on the template Madonna made over the last three decades. In other words, just as Madonna was trying desperately to keep up with the times, the times seemed to be doubling back to relive her glory days. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Queen of Pop uses 2012’s MDNA to reaffirm her place on the throne, even bringing in modern pop duchesses Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. to bow before her and declare their devotion on a couple of tracks. At the same time, Madonna’s relatively recent divorce (as well as the added stress of directing a film) has given her a massive bone to pick, and she decides to address her issues head on throughout the record.
To her credit, all this ambition could have turned the record into an overwrought mess, but it’s actually shockingly cohesive, despite the presence of nearly a dozen producers. As the drug reference in the title implies, this is an album tailored to the nightclubs, but this isn’t exactly a retro DJ set like Confessions On A Dancefloor, though there’s indeed echoes of that album’s sound here. Instead, Ray Of Light producer William Orbit and the slew of other collaborators give this a cool, stainless steel pulse, fit for modern dance-pop radio. It’s so slick and clean-cut that when the first or second listen sucker punches you with a rush of beats and shiny synths, it’s easy to get intoxicated by the wash of sound. However, as repeated spins peel away the surface layers, MDNA reveals itself to have a number of rather mediocre songs. It’s not that tracks like the fluffy “Superstar” or the maudlin “Masterpiece” are bad, per se; they’re just undefined, lacking strong hooks and the polished songwriting Madonna’s known for. But even while the big-budget productions help conceal these lapses in songwriting, they also unfortunately strangle her emotional confessions. Sure, she fantasizes about shooting her ex-lover in the head on the throbbing “Gang Bang,” and there’s talk of custody battles on “I Don’t Give A,” but in such a slick, precise setting, there isn’t room for messy human feelings here, giving these songs an air of missed opportunity. Then again, there’s always the sense that Madonna doesn’t want to reveal too much about herself because to do that would mean admitting her age. And if there’s one thing MDNA is trying to prove, it’s that she’s a hip, major player in the pop market.
Understandably though, this album is still going to have its fans, and MDNA does have fits of brilliance from time to time, whether it be the roadtrip-ready “Turn Up The Radio” or the mindlessly catchy “Give Me All Your Luvin’.” This is especially true of the wonderful “I’m A Sinner,” which is the only the song here that hints at the greatness this album could have achieved. And that’s just it with MDNA: There are many fine elements at work here, yet they are executed improperly, resulting in a disappointing album that squanders much of its considerable potential.