Today Madonna's 12th studio album, MDNA, is in stores and on iTunes. It's her first since 2008's Hard Candy, and the album title is already bringing the ire of electronic artist deadmau5, who took exception with what he saw as her excessive use of drug references in tandem with her new sound.
The funny thing is that Madonna was championing drug use and dancing long before deadmau5 knew the alphabet. It's just what she does. It would be like the Black Keys damning the Rolling Stones for talking about sex and drugs on a new album. Madonna was there first, like it or not. It's her job to mirror trends and somehow Frankenstein them onto her new work.
It seems silly to think she will set electronic music in 2012 back to the stoned age. That's up for the fans to decide, not the artists.
Now I'm a Madonna fan from way back, from the birth of MTV, when I didn't realize I was watching softcore porn. The videos and the sex appeal were one thing, but it was her use of production that always pulled her apart from the rest of the pack.
MDNA is no different, and if anything it shows that she's gifted at noticing changing tides -- albeit with a production team -- and reinterpreting them through her own filter.
I think that MDNA could have fallen into the same trap that Bruce Springsteen just found himself in with his recent Wrecking Ball, making a stereotypically Madonna album that was just an excuse for a two-year touring cash grab. As with Wrecking Ball, MDNA is not without filler ("I'm A Sinner" sounds like a holdover from 1999), but it's not a dog either.
Why would I draw parallels between the The Boss and the Queen Of Pop? They were two of the most significant pop stars of the '80s who have managed to remain if not relevant, at least torch-bearers from a time when pop could unite everyone -- unlike now, when music is so spread-out and compartmentalized that it's rare for one person to at least draw from most every crowd. Hey, some people hate Adele too.
"Girl Gone Wild" begins MDNA with Madonna praying to the Dance God, with a glimmer of blasphemy. This voice hardly sounds like her, and she seems to inhabit a frightful, menacing character on the first half of the album.
It's scary to people half her age, because she's 53 and should be strumming a guitar at this point and not donning latex and trying to steal your man.
She keeps asking for forgiveness, but she doesn't mean it in the slightest. At least she's honest. Confessions a dance floor, indeed.
The last three or four songs of the album are Madonna inhabiting a voice that is all her in 2012. The rest rides on a constant, jarring, dubstep throb, with the help of guys like Benny Benassi.
"Gang Bang" is Ladytron risen from the depths of Hell. Gun control be damned, the song has plenty of pistol imagery to last us the rest of the decade. "Drive, bitch," she says, and the dancefloor will abide.
Echoes of "Hung Up" ring throughout. Can we all agree that that is her best song of the past decade? Thanks.
MDNA has more in common with Kylie Minogue or Goldfrapp than the other elephant in the room, Lady Gaga. Anyone calling this some sort of reaction to four years of Gaga can pipe down. Though I honestly don't see Mother Monster making an album like this in 2037.
Lead single "Give Me All Your Luvin'" sounds like Major Lazer, perhaps owing to the guest spots from hell-raisers M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj. Their appearances seem like adding too many cooks into the kitchen than needed though.
Same goes for "I Don't Give A" with Minaj. I would have preferred to see Gaga and Madge going toe-to-toe on a track for true drama. There would no doubt have been blood in the recording booth.
"Love Spent", "Masterpiece", and "Falling Free" close MDNA with what most would call "age-appropriate Madonna". The electro-banjo on "Love Spent" -- yes, electro-banjo -- sells the cut.
"Masterpiece" harkens back to Music's "Don't Tell Me" and is a rare bit of penance on a disc that is unrepentant. It's on album closer "Falling Free" when you remember that the woman has one of the most delicate voices that pop has seen, aside from the flash and brass.
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With each new Madonna album -- and this is at least true for everything after 1998's Ray of Light -- there is the inevitable groan across the land. I do each time myself.
But MDNA is quality Madonna and not textbook Madonna, that much I can glean from about five laps around the album. New converts will be entranced, and older fans will have to warm to it.