A child of the 80s, I was of course raised on Madonna from the moment she launched onto the scene. Traipsing around in tiny fingerless black lace gloves, I watched Madge’s early movies and endlessly listened to my cassette of the groundbreaking and forever classic Like A Prayer.
One of the things I admired about Madonna as an artist was her brazen and brash personality. Madonna was the original Honey Badger: she didn’t care if you were offended or a fan, because she was too busy being herself. Her image shifted with each album, but at the core, she was always the same sexual, provocative, politically aware woman, out to make fantastic pop music that also said something here and there, between the always danceable beats.
Madonna’s misfired in the past: I found Bedtime Stories a snooze aside from Human Nature, and Music did not make me Bourgeoisie or a rebel, just annoyed. But step back in time with me to 2005’s Confessions On A Dance Floor and marvel at how Madonna borrowed a distinct sound, but made it her own all the same. Hung Up works better than one might expect, while Sorry makes you want to throw your hands up, stare at an ex and scream, “I’ve heard it all before!” And Madge delivers the best anthem demanding straight up and down motion since House of Pain and Kris Kross (and perhaps Chumbawamba).
What happened? Madonna stopped being herself, and started trying to be everyone else. No longer influenced and inspired to a 2.0 of something that intrigues her, she is now copying the intrigued. Hard Candy’s Justin Timberlake duet and ridiculous songs about her body parts left anything but a sweet taste in my mouth. This quote from Rolling Stone pretty much says it all:
“…a songwriting team of American chart royalty” that helps Madonna “revisit her roots as an urban-disco queen. […] For Hard Candy, she lets top-shelf producers make her their plaything.”
In approaching 2012’s M.D.N.A, I think of lead single Give Me All Your Luvin featuring (in my opinion) overrated flavour of the moment Nicki Minaj and a wasted M.I.A. and am hesitant. Given the roster on this album, it again reeks of signing up to be puppeted into whatever sells, instead of dictating what will sell next. But maybe it won’t be all that bad… Maybe?
First listen impressions coming up…
Girl Gone Wild: This track begins with so much promise: a delicious prayer/spoken-word intro that seems to set us up for something akin to Human Nature. Instead, we get a throwback to Confessions in terms of sonic landscape. Lyrically, it’s drivel: she even rips off Cyndi Lauper for the chorus. Really? We couldn’t think of anything better to describe a girl going wild than “Girls, they just want to have some fun”? The more I listen to it, the more I hear a slightly higher quality version of Ke$ha’s Tik-Tok. This is hardly complimentary. Madonna can do better than this. It’s background club fodder, as opposed to Ray of Light, which makes everyone sing and dance.
Gang Bang: Before reading the lyrics, I feared Katy Perry-esque bullshit. Instead, we get Madonna blah blahing on about being a fish out of water and talk-droning about killing some guy she’s dating. Gang Bang, in this instance, refers to being a gang banger. It sounds like the throwaway of the worst rap mixtape ever, lyrically. Sample lyrics include, “So how did you end up with all of my jack?” Well Madonna, I agree: “Then I discovered it couldn’t get worse.” I can barely stand to listen to the end. It’s so ridiculous to hear a 53 year-old woman talking like a troubled teen on Maury Povich. The breathy speak-singing isn’t sexy; it’s just pathetic. Even better, she snags the breakdown bridge from Britney Spears’ Hold It Against Me. Oh my. Facepalm. “Drive bitch! I said drive bitch! And while you’re at it, die bitch!” Pathetic.
I’m Addicted: Again, reminiscent of Confessions but still unique. Less lyrically dreadful than Gang Bang, mercifully. This one’s pretty danceable on the whole. Of the first three tracks, it’s the only one that’s enjoyable, although still not stellar. B grade track, but enjoyable pop with its electronic blips and synths over a perfect clubbing beat. Expect a ten-minute remix for the gay bars.
Turn Up The Radio: Again, pure shallow lyrics, and quite frankly, I heard this message three tracks ago. “I just want to get in my car… Turn up the radio.” Wait a second…. Didn’t Britney Spears release this already? I Wanna Go? Yikes… “We gotta have fun, ’cause that’s all that we do.” Okay, Madonna, what the hell?
Give Me All Your Luvin’: Blech. Already loathe this. Ripping off Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend ripping off Hey Mickey… How ironic: “Every record sounds the same.” Yeah, that’s the story of this album, aside from Gang Bang. “Be my lucky star.” And there she goes ripping herself off. Is she having 80s flashbacks? Or rather, are these songwriters? Are they trying to recapitulate on that old era of mega stardom? Ugh and here comes Nicki Minaj to make things go from average to terrible… She sounds like Left Eye on speed. The awful part is, this doesn’t just sound like Avril Lavigne: the lyrics speak of being a “different kind of girl” and demanding love from a guy. And again, dancing. Yeesh.
Some Girls: The lyrics are nothing earth-shattering, but unlike earlier tracks, I actually can see myself singing along while dancing in the club. The beat is playful and dirty. One criticism off the top: I get the effect they went for, but I’d actually like Madonna’s vocals mixed more to the forefront of the track, because they’re pretty decent. Would make a great dance charts single. A shout-out to individuality.
Superstar: Opens with reference to Brando, and I immediately think, “Didn’t we have this song already, only cooler?” Not a beat one can Vogue to, that’s for sure. Plays out like an American Idol throwaway single, with out of place guitar and generic beats with feedback and lyrics forced to fit the song structure in places, reminding me of Alanis Morissette’s song about letters or whatever. Meh. Oh wow, she just mentioned James Dean, too. Surprised she didn’t rhyme it with magazine.
I Don’t Give A: Another “I’m me and I don’t care if you like it” track, except… well, it’s obvious Madonna does care what people like, to the point of not being her own creature. Delving into her recently broken marriage (“I tried to be a good girl. I tried to be your wife. Diminished myself…”), this song should resonate with me, given my own track record for trying to be what others want instead of myself. But the endless songs with that static-y sort of twinge to the music is grating, and the stupid rap towards the end doesn’t fit at all and just…. ruins it. Seriously. Could someone please mix this without said rap? Rhyming Volvo and Aldo should be criminal. What could be an earnest song is just turned into a joke.
I’m A Sinner: I’m so tired of these songs all having this reverb-ish static effect. It hurts my head. I don’t even know why I’m bothering to review this track, because it’s Girl Gone Wild all over again. “I’m a sinner and I like it that way.” Blah blah, all the boys and girls wanna have fun like me. Bored now. Oh blech, it’s the same even down to the prayer elements: the breakdown is a bunch of drivel about Jesus, Mary and St. Christopher, among others. I guess it’s the better of the two carbon-copy tunes on the album. The prayer intro of this album suits this tune better, in my opinion.
Love Spent: This song sounds composed for a Nintendo video game. That’s my first intelligible thought, halfway through the track. The album is incredible same-y all the way through, and unfortunately, it doesn’t grab you like Confessions does. This one’s another jab at Richie, who apparently loves his money better than any human being, or so Madonna leads me to believe. “I want you to hold me like you hold your money.”
Masterpiece: Oh praise the music gods, a track that sounds different than the rest and isn’t a punchline like Gang Bang! Hip-swaying, Latin-tinged rhythm meats slow electronica, Madonna laments a rare beauty that slipped away. Perhaps the most exposed and honest work of the album thus far, it’s reminiscent of her earlier work and proof that she could make another great album. Whoever’s giving her advice these days needs to be fired. “Nothing’s indestructible,” Madonna sadly confesses in her painful love of the masterpiece.
Falling Free: If M.D.N.A. is a trek through the club scene, Falling Free is the song accenting the lonely walk from cab to front door, heels clutched in hand, pantyhose ripped. Gorgeous keys and strings accent a farewell to love as the disco fades and nothing is left to distract. “We’re both free, free to go,” Madonna insists, but freedom tastes bittersweet. The only track on the entire disc I actually really like, it reminds me of Ray of Light tunes Mer Girl or Drowned World/Substitute For Love – and Ray‘s my favourite album of hers.
For kicks, a couple of the Deluxe edition bonus tunes:
I Fucked Up: “I never imagined that we could fall…” I don’t know how to feel about this one: the words speak of sombre reflection akin to Masterpiece and Falling Free, but the melody doesn’t fit. I’d like to hear this as a piano ballad – no electronic loops, no heavy bass, no effects. Just Madonna and a piano.
B-Day Song: If you like Give Me All Your Luvin’ you’ll probably dig this; if, like me, you hate it, this is sure to annoy. Again, the talented MIA is totally wasted here, echoing the must-have-been-written-drunk lyrics. “The beat goes on. I’m a happy girl. It’s my birthday song in my happy world.” Oh, and, “I’ll let you lick the frosting off my cake.” Yeah, Christina Aguilera already did that one better on her track Nasty Naughty Boy. Perhaps tolerable on one’s birthday alone.
Overall Album Grade: C+