Girl, you have some explaining to do. The pop landscape has changed greatly since Madonna’s last full length LP (the oft-derided 2008 Timbaland led lacklustre R&B Hard Candy ), pop is back in Vogue (pardon the pun) again, thanks largely to the commercial gravitas of Rihanna’s bag of skilful PG temptress numbers, Britney’s electro-pop shenanigans and the pop behemoth that is one Miss Lady Gaga.
Can Madonna, now on the wrong side of the big 5-0 claim her rightful place on the throne she has reigned for near on 30 years? We take a track by track review.
GIRL GONE WILD
Second single Girl Gone Wild was met with a collective sigh of disinterest and despondence last month when first leaked. Featuring production of dance master Benny Benassi, this one is all thumping bass and synths, yet despite best efforts the song never lifts past second gear. What starts with a promising Sorry -esque spoken intro quickly devolves into a cookie cutter dance / pop hybrid with poor Mads sounding frankly….bored. The accompanying video is classic old school Madonna and is worth checking out for a demonstration on how to make a pop video that keeps you intrigued from the first frame. 5/10
Watch Madonna’s video for Girl Gone Wild below.
And quite frankly all is forgiven. Proceedings quickly take a turn towards the dark side and Madonna has never sounded more dangerous, or fierce. Think Tracy Lords, underground clubs and a whole lot of sweat. A pulsating bass line, almost industrial / trance at times. This is the finest offering from MDNA that is only tainted by the final minute of spoken ramblings which is both equal parts fun and irritating (“if you’re gonna act like a bitch, then you’re gonna die like a bitch’”). If Kill Bill were a pop song it would sound a hell of a lot like this. 9/10
The second Benassi produced number, and far superior to Girl Gone Wild , a powerhouse bass, club ready number that spits fire and call you to the dance floor. Name checking the album title, Madonna delivers her most hard club orientated track yet. Find yourself some speakers that can handle the deep bass and you may appear unable to control your body. Delicious club pop. 8.5/10
TURN UP THE RADIO
What has been pegged as the likely 3rd single, Radio continues the deep bass lines that permeate so much of MDNA (reigns are handled by dance production powerhouse Martin Solveig). Rides high above the previous two singles with its ‘80s style hook and Mads sounding like she’s at the party you want to be at. 7/10
GIVE ME ALL YOUR LUVIN’ (FEATURING NICKI MINAJ & M.I.A)
A fascinating documentary would revolve around the decision to release Luvin’ as the lead single from MDNA, as a demonstration of how not to handle an album campaign. Largely seen as a massive misfire which has been detrimental to the entire comeback of Madonna, Luvin’ is all Gwen Stefani hollaback chants with rap diva Minaj and alt-pop maestro M.I.A. shoehorned in to appeal to a younger demographic. Their verses crackle, yet as a first single it rarely meets expectations. 4/10
Reuniting with Ray of Light producer William Orbit after 12 years seems like a misguided move, yet Orbit here has moved on from the sweeping electronic wonderland of ‘Light’ and seems at peace with heavier dance numbers. After the initial punch of tracks Gang Bang and Addicted, Some Girls feels slightly inferior in comparison. Elements of the chorus feel very familiar to some of the grittier moments of Born This Way , but don’t tell Madge… that would just be reductive. 6/10
Beginning with an effective bass-driven hook, Superstar’s lyrically is one of the most naff moments on MDNA, but its light heartedness is almost welcome after a consistently dark first half. Comparing her lover to a list of celebrities (Brando, Michael Jordan, Travolta) this is Madonna in pop mode. Superstar swings along with pleasant moments and is all smiles and sparkle (let’s just not mention her misguided attempt at dub-step half way through). Daughter Lourdes contributes backing vocals to the track, but we’d be hard pressed to hear her amongst the harmonies. 6/10
I DON’T GIVE A (FEATURING NICKI MINAJ)
Haven’t we learned from the American Life single? Madonna the rapper wasn’t embraced in 2003 and surely is not welcome 9 years later. We find Madonna lamenting her empire, marriage and life over a military paced beat (sound familiar). Minaj makes her second appearance with her spitfire cameo before the whole track breaks down towards a grandiose orchestral finale that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Tim Burton film. Odd. 5/10
I’M A SINNER
Orbit’s next contribution is less dance, more pop and the results are Madonna sounding like its 1998 all over again. Taking its pleasure in a 60’s swing pop chorus, Sinner sounds like the sequel to Beautiful Stranger , another Orbit triumph (yes , you should be pleased). Lovin’ the vibe on this track. Welcome back pop Madge. 8/10
What begins with a banjo (yes… a banjo) slowly builds towards a track that is equal parts video game soundtrack, country club (if that were ever a genre) and traditional Madonna pop. If Mario Bros were played at an underground rave club the results would sound something like this. Vocally Madonna ups the pitch and sounds almost girlie, shame the whole thing never rises to its true potential 6.5/10
Taken from her feature length directorial debut W.E. this Masterpiece is a rarity nowadays, a Madonna ballad. Over strumming guitars and folksy beats, everything moves along pleasantly, which is perfectly acceptable, yet you never really warm to the track or its premise (comparing a lover to a priceless work of art). Winning a Golden Globe for the track (which is played over the closing credits of the film), Masterpiece is a welcome change of pace, just try remembering it minutes later. 5.5/10
Completing the non-deluxe edition of the album, Falling Free is another ballad handled with a greater scope, sweeping strings, electronic twinkles (a William Orbit trademark) and Madonna delivering a rousing vocal. The quietest moment of MDNA is antithesis of the opening numbers, but is instantly intriguing and raw. Simply beautiful 7.5/10
MDNA serves up four original tracks that serve their purpose, to satisfy eager, hardcore fans. Beautiful Killer (6.5/10) is worthwhile Solveig produced electro number that pumps along in a snappy style (check out the string section), while I Fucked Up (6/10) is lyrically an honest insight into the demise of her relationship with Guy Ritchie, however, the track never really rises to its subject matter. B-Day Song (3/10) is an oddity, pure ‘b-side’ that is part ‘60s homage, part girl group pop lite (and featuring M.I.A’s second cameo). Best Friend (5/10) finishes up MDNA with Madge rattling off over a stuttering beat what she misses most about her ex, the concept is interesting, but the delivery is undercooked and never moves beyond passable.
Overall, Madonna has rarely been so confessional than here on MDNA. Her divorce to Ritchie is well represented throughout and several tracks require repeat spins to truly get a feel for the record thematically.
There’s elements of previous albums throughout (Ray of Light, Confessions and Erotica come to mind) and Madonna largely feels in control and has chosen producers to both progress her sound and play to her strengths as a pop artist.
Madonna the performer keeps her finger on the pulse commercially and lyrically has revealed a far greater side to her personal life than we normally hear. This is a welcome return to form… now about those single choices…
MDNA is out now.