Saturday, March 31, 2012

Very late Madonna album review

Due to a mixture of bad luck and missed opportunities, I have only just heard Madonna's new album MDNA for the first time. There are approximately a million reviews already but one incredibly beautiful and talented person told me "yours is the one I'm waiting for". I'm a sucker for flattery, so here are my instant impressions, track-by-track.

1) Girl Gone Wild

It's not an auspicious start. Madonna, icon of female empowerment, has taken inspiration from a series of soft porn films where female college students are encouraged to bear their chests for a cheap necklace. The intended tone is cheeky irreverence, but it comes across as tawdry and nasty. Putting the lyrics aside, if you can, Girl Gone Wild sounds 18 times better on a "proper" stereo than it does on a tinny, compressed YouTube video. Madonna's vocals, in particular, aren't as weak as you think.

Key lyric: "Girls they just want to have some fun / Get fired up like a smoking gun".
Is it any good: Yes, just.

2) Gang Bang

A steamy pot-boiler, as Madonna chants over minimalist techno: "I loved you the most, but I was just keeping my enemies close". Bound to be interpreted as a kiss-off to Guy Ritchie, its final scene recalls the video for What It Feels Like For A Girl, which he directed, as a car screeches around town with Madonna screaming "Die Bitch Die" out the window. Surprisingly brilliant.

Key lyric: "If you're going to act like a bitch / then you're going to die like a bitch".
Is it any good: Yes.

3) I'm Addicted

This is the one with the MDMA reference, but Madonna's vocals are cut up like an entirely different street drug. The metaphor of love as addiction is as well-worn as Madge's collection of leotards but, if anything, this is the pivotal track on the album - the Queen Of Pop reasserting her dancefloor credentials after a couple of years where, let's face it, she'd gone totally off the boil. There's a nice nod to Donna Summer's I Feel Love in the middle 8, too.

Key lyric: "I need to dance and it feels like a drug".
Is it any good: Yes.

4) Turn Up The Radio

A classic major key pop melody, undercut by a series of melancholy chords that suggest Madonna's desire for volume is to drown out her thoughts. Short, sweet, insubstantial, fun.

Key lyric: "I don't know how I got to this state / Let me out of my cage cause I'm dying".
Is it any good: It's credible filler.

5) Give Me All Your Luvin'

We know this already. Neither as good as the rabid fans claim, nor as bad as its chart placing would have you believe. While the sugary surf guitar and wobbly dubstep breakdown are diverting, the song is mostly content to sit in a groove without ever going anywhere.

Key lyric: "I'm a barbarian, I'm Conan".
Is it any good: Not really, no.

6) Some Girls

Revisiting the vocodery techno sound of Music, this is essentially a list of different types of girls. "Some girls got an attitude", "some girls call the shots", "some girls always get what they wanna, wanna" (this last one might be Rachel Stevens - can someone check?). Then Madonna comes with a big smug grin on her face and says "Some girls are not like me. I never wanna be some girls." What a dick.

Key lyric: "Some girls make a scene / Shoot their mouth and talk obsecne".
Is it any good: Yes.

7) Superstar

Another list song - "you're Bruce Lee with the way that you move", "you're like Ceasar stepping onto the throne", "you're James Dean driving in your fast car" etc. Madonna is basically comparing her new boyfriend to a lot of men who died in horrible circumstances - providing a neat circularity with Gang Bang's promise to "see off" her ex-husband. It culminates with the frankly bizarre assertion "you're like Abe Lincoln". Who doesn't want to be told that?

Key lyric: "I'm your biggest fan it's true / Hopelessly attracted to you".
Is it any good: Yes.

8) I Don't Give A

Of the "pop" songs on the album, this is the most interesting, production-wise. It's got a mid-tempo chugga-chugga electro rhythm, over which Madonna does a slightly better version of her American Life "soy latte" rap. The lyrical concept is that Madonna is very busy now that she's single: "Wake up, ex-wife / This is your life". She goes on to list some of the horrible things she now has to do all by herself, including connecting the wifi and tweeting on the elevator. It sounds challenging, I think you'll agree.

Key lyric: "Ride my horse / Break some bones".
Is it any good: Yes. Especially the extended choral coda.

9) I'm A Sinner

OH HELLO THERE, WILLIAM ORBIT. Madonna's former producer picks up where he left off at the turn of the millennium, recycling the groove from Beautiful Stranger (and the Ultra Violet mix of Ray Of Light). It's familiar but fresh, with Madonna confessing and revelling in her flaws. "I'm a sinner, I like it that way," she boasts. The middle section lists a bunch of ecclesiastical figures - from the martyr Saint Sebastian, who was shot to death with arrows, to the theologian Thomas Aquinas. It's basically a Catholic We Didn't Start The Fire.

Key lyric: "I'm a sinner, I like it that way".
Is it any good: Yes, although the first chorus keeps threatening to break into "Everybody Wang Chung tonight".

10) Love Spent

This marks the intersection of Madonna's fascination with European gypsy music and hardcore techno. A dog's dinner, served up on a banjo.

Key lyric: "Frankly if my name was Benjamin, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in".
Is it any good: No.

11) Masterpiece

Originally on the soundtrack to W.E., Masterpiece tackles the film's central theme of inadequacy in the face of perfection. Madonna's best ballads are always about desperation and insecurity (think Live To Tell or her desolate cover of Marvin Gaye's I Want You) so this plays to her strengths.

Key lyric: "It hurts so much to be in love with a masterpiece".
Is it any good: Yes.

12) Falling Free

After the anger, the pain and the escapism of the proceeding eleven tracks, this is the point where Madonna cleanses herself of the past (ie Guy Ritchie) and vows to start anew. The most mature lyric on the album, it begins with the acknowledgement "when I move a certain way, I feel an ache I've kept at bay". Over the course of the song, Madonna realises she can't demand an explanation for the breakdown of her marriage, concluding: "If I let loose the need to know, then we're both free. Free to go". Over the last few lines, her voice grows deeper and deeper(!), sinking to what I assume is now her natural vocal register. It's the most haunting, moving moment on the record and, just perhaps, a sign of where her writing needs to go next. Beautiful.

Key lyric: ""If I let loose the need to know, then we're both free. Free to go".
Is it any good: Yes.

So there you have it. MDNA is a pretty good album, like everyone else said before me. I'd advise splashing out for the deluxe edition, as the bonus tracks are a worthy addition to your library, but I'm going to let you discover their secrets for yourself.

Sarah, I hope you're happy.

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