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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

First Review: Madonna - MDNA

We have a special treat here. The first track by track review of the album, MDNA.

1. Girl Gone Wild
A lean, sleek, electro stomper kicks proceedings off the way Madonna means to continue – with the machine tooled precision of 21st century techno-pop, balancing the twin requirements of radio friendly hooks and dance floor drive. “Girls they just wanna have some fun,” suggests our fearless leader.

Now where have we heard that idea before? This not particularly original notion is the album’s central manifesto: innocent amusement over introspection.

2. Gang Bang
Despite an unfortunate title that younger fans would be advised not to google, this is not (thankfully) some brutal sex romp. Rather, the title is a misguided attempt to distinguish itself from Sixties pop classic Bang Bang, from which Madonna borrows the central image of murdering a paramour: “Bang bang, shot you dead / Shot my lover in the head”. Sparse and atmospheric, with a stripped back electrobeat and low, drawling vocal, buoyed by bursts of sub-bass and developing into a solid techno groove, its one of the album’s odder and most interesting tracks, only sullied by Madonna’s dedication to leaving no lyrical cliché unturned. She is a fish out of water, a bat out of hell, apparently.

3. I’m Addicted
Arpeggiated synth sequences build into fizzing swells and stabs, bleeping and swooshing all the way. Very effective digital pop that will sound fantastic loud and hard on the dance floor but, like so many songs on Madonna’s 12th studio album, lyrics appear to have been added as an afterthought. Does anyone really need another song about being addicted to love, comparing the rush of hormones with narcotics? The vocal cuts and stutters, so that Madonna repeatedly declares herself to be a dick, dick.

4. Turn Up The Radio
Even in the age of the internet, it is still the radio that holds romance for our 54-year-old pop queen. Lush, shimmery keyboards frame a slow start, with Madonna seeking space from the crowd (or rather, in an effort to use every cliché available, “the maddening crowd”), before a nice, wonky synth launches a solid pop belter. Madonna finds herself “sucked like a moth to the flame” but the slamming dance floor outro should distract from lyrical banality.

5. Give Me All Your Luvin’
Is the spelling meant to distinguish it in search engines from ZZ Tops’ Gimme All Your Lovin’? Madonna’s serial appropriation of perennially overused ideas might almost be passed off as some kind of pop parlour game.

The first single is the lightest, frothiest track on the album, deliberately dinky and cute, built on a burbling eighties synth and glam slam drum pattern. Its prime purpose appears to involve Niki Minaj and MIA represent all next generation female pop stars by swearing allegiance to the Queen with the chant of “L-U-V Madonna!”

6. Some Girls
Let’s give Madonna the benefit of the doubt and assume she didn’t know the Rolling Stones already have a song called Some Girls. Anyway, you’d never find Mick and Keith shaking their stuff to a mid-tempo groove with a deep electro bass line and stabbing synths. Producer William Orbit plays tricks with Madonna’s vocals, from intimate to echoed, tinny to seductive, but the intention is apparently not to portray Madonna as some kind of every woman: “Some girls are not like me / I’d never wanna be like some girls” she rather tartly declares.

7. Superstar
Sweet and summery, with a shimmering ambience built up from a ringing guitar loop and echoing tom tom pattern that might have been constructed from Beatle drum fills. The poppy melody and “ooh la la, you’re a superstar” singalong chorus houses a lyric so clumsy its obtuseness almost sounds deliberate: “You can have the password to my phone / I’ll give you a massage when you get home”. For someone determined to keep up with the kids, Madonna’s retro references for ideal men may leave the youngsters baffled: Brando, Travolta, James Dean, Bruce Lee and Abe Lincoln (cause you fight for what’s right”).

8. I Don’t Give A
There is real energy to this Martin Solveig production. Madonna delivers a raised middle finger to the world in general, and ex-husband Guy Ritchie in particular: “I tried to be a good girl / I tried to be your wife / I diminished myself / And I swallowed my light / I tried to become all / That you expect of me / And if I was a failure / I don’t give a …” (I’ve been trying to think of an obscenity that rhymes with “me”, but maybe I am missing the point). The ending twists into a big, autotune choral coda with the drama of a techno Carmina Burana. An album highlight, though Niki Minaj’s explosive rap rather shows up Madonna’s more static delivery.

9. I’m A Sinner
With Orbit back at the controls, this is reminiscent of the uplifting thrill of Ray of Light. Constructed on a drum loop, it pulses along with a fluid almost Sixties keyboard, building to a big, declarative chugging gospel techno ride, with Madonna exultantly declaring that, like St Augustine, she wants to be saved, but not quite yet. A breakdown into a recitation of Saints (Christopher, Sebastian and Anthony all get a name check) is effective, and it ends with “ooh ooh”s cheekily reminiscent of Sympathy For The Devil. Fun.

10. Love Spent
Gypsy string loop and brief, treated Spaghetti Western banjo flourishes introduce an almost organic feel to a very synthetic, stylised album. A pop song about love and money (topics the Material Girl frequently conflates) it weaves elegant electro patterns and builds to a big, throbbing chorus.

11. Masterpiece
Sweet, gentle love song with a Spanish guitar loop, a light beat and flowing melody, filled out by synthetic strings. The theme song for her critically panned film W.E., she may have been thinking of Prince Edward when she wrote “honestly, it can’t be fun / To always be the chosen one”, but the message applies just as much to Madonna herself. For most of this album she seems determined to demonstrate that a 50-year-old mother of four can still cut it with the kids at the club. Yet, perversely, she sounds most at ease when she calms down a bit and acts her age.

12. Falling Free
The first five tracks of MDNA are all produced by hit techno teams and the results are digitally sparkling, catchy and contemporary. The second half of the album is presided over by William Orbit, and while not as immediately hook laden, there is more sonic depth and invention. But only on the album closer is there a suggestion of a musical life beyond the hit parade. With a cascading, beatless melody and poetic, free form lyrics, Madonna’s pure, dreamy vocal has her declaring herself “free to fail.” It is a song about letting go, by a woman who, most the time, seems to be holding on very tightly indeed. Although out of character with the rest of this youth-focused electro dance pop confection, it suggests that Madonna may actually have musical and emotional places to explore when she eventually tires of setting the pop pace.

MDNA is released on Interscope on March 26.


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