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There's a fun moment at the end of the video to the first single Give Me All Your Luvin’, when Madonna flings a baby doll off camera and away from her breast. It isn’t a subtle marker of starting anew with her loyal audience of gays and good-time girls, but it is comically satisfying nonetheless. Party Madonna is back and she wants us to know it.
Teaming up with producers Martin Solveig, Benny Benassi, The Demolition Crew and old hand William Orbit, MDNA is a dose of what she does best. While that may seem like just dance music, there is more to Madonna’s oeuvre than that.
Girls Gone Wild, the biggest pop stomper on the album, kicks off with a reference to Act of Contrition from Like a Prayer. The production might sound like she's been listening to a fair bit of Rihanna, but who’s counting. Madonna brings her own authority, creating the kind of anthemic party song that she does best, the kind where everyone from your three-year-old niece to your 60-year-old mother gets up on the dancefloor. Much of MDNA is about having fun, but despite that, this is a dark album. If Like a Prayer was her divorce record and Hard Candy suffered, one senses, from being put together as her relationship with Guy Ritchie was falling apart, then MDNA is a fuck you to her marriage, the life that came with it, and partly to herself for losing her identity in a partnership. She’s out to recapture who she is, and she has demons to slay.
The strangely titled Gang Bang sees her singing in a weird theatrical drawl about taking revenge on a lover who ruined her life. Shot you dead, shot my lover in the head…I’m going straight to hell…I’ve got a lot of friends there, she deadpans before yelling, Drive bitch, die bitch!. It’s kind of stupid, kind of amazing, kind of funny and kind of fucked up but gives the album one vital ingredient to Madonna's success that all contenders, apart from Lady Gaga, have never clued up on: drama.
The Solveig-produced I Don't Give A..., is one of the album's tour-de-force moments. Beginning by recounting a typical day, it becomes intensely honest, and is, as is her way, a telling-off of her critics. Love her or loathe her, Madonna has made her name by raising a middle finger to, well, just about everyone. Wake up, this is your life, children on your own, gotta plan on the phone, meet the press, buy a dress, do all this to impress…do ten things at once and if you don't like it I don't give a…. It’s here that she makes specific reference to her ex-husband. I tried to be the perfect wife…I diminished myself…it swallowed me…if I was a failure then I don’t give a…. The track builds to a genius, choral, almost Tim Burton-esque conclusion.
This strongest, most immediate section of MDNA continues with Turn Up the Radio, which begins like a delicate ballad as she pleads with the listener to stop for a moment, to get away from the world through music. It may sound trite but there's urgency in its simplicity. It transforms into the album’s most pounding moment, reaching a climax that threatens to blow the speakers. Some might find it unusually generic, but she makes it her own and fans will be happy to have a dancefloor filler that will shake the clubs and would happily find a slot on the next series of Glee.
One of the later highlights is Superstar, surely the sweetest song Madonna has released since Cherish. It twirls along, an open-top summer anthem, serenading a new lover with a hypnotic chorus. It's simple and pretty and a perfect song to sing on her summer concerts and should definitely be a single.
MDNA ends, as recent Madonna albums do, with deep melancholia, from the Orbit-produced Falling Free, one of the saddest songs she’s ever written, through to the confessional I Fucked Up on the Deluxe Edition, accompanied by Beautiful Killer, a fun, 80s-sounding, strings-laced tribute to French actor Alain Delon.
Overall, this might not have the serious pop intensity of Confessions, it’s not as drastically new or experimental as music critics might like, but it’s fun, fucked up, dancey and full of drama. It’s what her fans have been waiting for: a wallop enough of an album to put her back up there, at checkmate against Lady Gaga, who, despite her brilliance, doesn’t quite give you songs that are as easy to disco dance to as some of these are. Is Madonna still ‘the Queen’ as Nicki Minaj gabs at one point? On the strength of MDNA, it’s hard to argue against.
[Note to Monsters: Lady Gaga is frikkin’ amazing, too. Don't kill us.]
4 STARS ****
MDNA is released on March 26 on Interscope
. source: Matthew Todd, Attitude Magazine April 2012