Divorce might be a bad thing for Madonna, the human being…but it turns out to almost always be a great thing for Madonna, the artist. When Madonna first emerged in the early 80’s, she was instantly capable of making infectious pop tunes that rightfully earned their place on the charts. Her albums, however, well…. that was another story. Aside from the hit singles everyone knows and loves, the first few Madonna albums were filled with capital F Filler material. There’s a reason her first greatest hits compilation The Immaculate Collection is the biggest selling “best of” from any solo artist; no casual fans wants those early, amateurish Madonna albums like Like A Virgin just for the hit singles.
That all changed after her 1989 divorce from her first husband actor Sean Penn, when she unleashed her first great album Like A Prayer on the world. It was the first entirely listenable from start to finish Madonna album, and showed that she was more than just another generic Top 40 hit maker. Maybe it took an abusive marriage and a painful divorce to bring that out of her, but after that, there was no turning back.
Flash forward to Madonna’s last album, 2008’s Hard Candy. Although an overall fun, fluffy album, in hindsight the whole endeavor reeked of desperation. Instead of working with little known European electronic music producers (as she had done since her critically acclaimed album Ray of Light) she made a desperate attempt at getting airplay on American radio by teaming up with an assorted collection of the top hit makers of the moment. Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Pharell Williams and Timbaland all contributed to that album, and while it was fine for what it was…it just didn’t sound like Madonna. Madonna always follows the beat of her own drummer, and for once, she didn’t. Yeah, she got a fairly big hit out of it (4 Minutes) but the album was one of her lowest selling to date.
And then there is the elephant in the room; in the four years since Hard Candy, Madonna’s slot in pop culture has been filled by Lady Gaga, who has done a better job at being Madonna than Madonna herself has these past few years. So with her latest album MDNA, Madonna has a lot to prove. Can she compete with the pop ingenues that are single handedly keeping the music business afloat? Does she even need to compete with them at this point? After all, with nearly thirty years of top ten hits behind her, she can rest on her laurels and just tour with her greatest hits forever and rake in the cash.
But it seems its as if she viewed the arrivals of the Gagas and the Rhiannas and the Katy Perries over the past few years since her last album as a throwing down of the gauntlet, and with MDNA she has truly responded in kind with one of her best albums yet. Never quite reaching the creative heights of Ray of Light and Confessions on a Dance Floor, MDNA is still up there with the best of them, and sounds more creatively fresh and new than someone who has been this long in the business really has any right to.
With MDNA, Madonna has re-united with William Orbit, the producer for her seminal 1998 album Ray of Light on six tracks, and teamed for the first time with hot French electronic artist Martin Solveig on another six tracks, and rounded it all out with Italian Ministry of Sound producer Benny Benassi. Instead of a giant mish-mash, instead MDNA coheres into something wonderful, if not always perfect. Both old and new Madonna fans will be eating this one up upon release.
So, without any further ado, is my track by track assessment of MDNA (standard version)
1. Girl Gone Wild (3 *** out of 5 *****)
-The second single off this album should have absolutely been the first. It is far from my favorite on this album, but it sets the tone for what follows well enough. MDNA is mostly up tempo club beats, and GGW lets you know what you’re gonna be in for in suitable fashion. The album version of the track opens with the Catholic prayer the Act of Contrition (how very Like A Prayer of you Madge) and then descends into total Britney Spears land. In fact, GGW could have easily been a track on Britney’s last album Femme Fatale. But that’s not really a bad thing. Plus, we got a really homolicious video out of it. So I’m ok overall with GGW.
Choice Lyrics: The room is spinning/It must be the Tanqueray/I’m about to go astray/My inhibition’s gone away (I sure hope Tanqueray gin gets a cut of the profits)
You’ll Like This Song If You Like: Britney Spears music from the past five years, Madonna’s 2009 single Celebration.
2. Gang Bang (4 1/2 **** out of 5*****)
-Despite the title, this song is not about group sex (she covered that subject pretty well back during the Erotica/Sex Book era) But like the song Thief of Hearts on Erotica, where she threatened to kick ex hubby Sean Penn’s new wife Robin Wright’s ass, this song is Madonna at her bitter and angriest. (Believe me, compared to Guy Ritchie in this song, Robin Wright got off easy) Essentially, this song is a fantasy of an angry woman shooting her lover in the head, going to Hell for it, and shooting her lover in the head all over again once they both get there. This is the first of many songs that are so clearly about her ex husband as to almost be uncomfortable. But Madonna’s bitterness results in one of the hottest, grittiest tracks on the album.
And I’m going straight to hell/And I’ve got a lot of friends there/And if I see that bitch in hell/I’m gonna shoot him in the head again/Cause I wanna see him die/Over and Over and Over and Over and Over and Over and Over and Over
You’ll Like This Song If You Like: Thief of Hearts from Erotica, 90’s Old Skool techno music, the Kill Bill movies.
3. I’m Addicted (5 ***** out of 5 *****)
-Easily my favorite track on the album. Some artists are their most emotionally compelling and real when they are singing heartfelt ballads and love songs. A few songs like that aside (Live to Tell, Take A Bow) that sure ain’t Madonna’s strong suit. Madonna is most resonant when singing about the joys of losing yourself to the beat on the dance floor, and letting the groove carry you into euphoric oblivion. Whether it is Into the Groove or Vogue or Ray of Light or Music, killer dance music is what Madonna does best. And I’m Addicted is right up there with the best of ‘em.
Choice Lyrics: Now that your name /pumps like the blood in my veins /Pulse through my body /igniting my mind /it’s like MDMA /And that’s ok
You’ll Like This Song If You Like: Dancing. Plain and simple. Also, if you like Daft Punk’s TRON: Legacy score. (and ecstasy)
4. Turn Up The Radio (4 **** out of 5*****)
– Not sure why on Earth Madonna didn’t choose this as her first single, as it is a perfectly wonderful little radio friendly dance tune. French electro artist Martin Solveig’s hand is heavily felt throughout this track. A fun song about getting in your car, turning up your speakers really loud and driving fast as you sing along. A simple song about simple pleasures, but done well. If this were ten years or so back, this song would be a Summer radio anthem, but at Madonna’s age it will be difficult to get enough signigicant radio play in the States for that to happen. Oh well, our loss.
Choice Lyrics: Turn down the noise and turn up the volume /Don’t have a choice cause the temperatures pounding /If leaving this place is the last thing I do /Then I want to escape with a person just like you (I never said this was a complex ditty folks. Just a fun one)
You’ll Like This If You Like: Martin Solveig’s current hit song Hello
5. Give Me All Your Luvin’ (feat. MIA and Nicki Minaj) (2 1/2 ** out of 5 *****)
-This first single landed with a giant meh, and while it isn’t offensive by any means…it sounds way too much like most modern pop hits today for my taste, as it is the same first minute or so just repeated for the duration of the rest of the four minute song. I’ll say it is less offensive as album filler than as a single. And at least we got a cute video out of it, and that whole awesome cheerleader section she did during the Superbowl. But this is one of the weaker tracks on the album, and when some of the fan made remixes are better than the final product, you know you’re in trouble. I think the only reason it became a single is she realized she was doing the Super Bowl and saw a cheerleader tie in and saw a marketing opportunity. Madonna the business woman won out over Madonna the artist.
Choice Lyrics: L-U-V-Madonna! (I know, I’m reaching here)
You’ll Like This Song If You Like: Mickey by Tony Basil?
6. Some Girls (4**** out of 5*****)
– And now we’re back to form again. Some Girls is a killer dance track, where M reminds everyone that unlike “some girls” she’s never gonna become a hot mess, have a public nervous breakdown, or any of that nonsense that seems to plague so many of these pop princesses these days. If Madonna wants to show you her vajayjay, it will be because she wants to, not because she was a sloppy drunk mess coming out of a limo. And she’s never gonna pull a Whitney and drown in hotel bathtub (too soon?) Bitch has got way too much shit to do, like making sure everyone gets down on the damn dance floor.
Choice Lyrics: Some girls got an attitude/Fake tits and a nasty mood
You’ll Like This If You Like: Ladytron, Lady Gaga’s Heavy Metal Lover.
7. Superstar (2 1/2 ** out of 5 *****)
In my opinion, Madonna doesn’t really do cutesy and cuddly very well (I’ve never much liked her attempts at doing so with songs like Cherish) And this song is a little too cutesy for my taste. The song doesn’t really go anywhere, and is just M comparing her latest love (presumably her thirty years younger boyfriend Brahim Zabat) to the likes of Marlon Brando, John Travolta and Abe Lincoln (for reals) by the time the song is over, I’m eager for her to go back to talking smack on her ex husband and being slutty on the dance floor. I imagine a lot of fans will think this song is cute, and frankly it could be worse. But to me, this one is pretty much filler material.
Choice Lyrics: You’re Bruce Lee with the way you move/you’re Travolta getting into your groove
You Might Like This Song If You Like: Cherish, Little Star
8. I Don’t Give A…
– This is probably my second least favorite song on the album. This is also the second song on the album where Madge works with current “it girl” Nicki Minaj. Madonna “rapping” brings back too many bad memories of her awful song American Life. (note to Madonna- you can’t be good at everything. Rapping is one of those things…kinda like acting.) Around the halfway mark though, the Nicki Minaj totally takes over and the song becomes more fun and interesting, with Nicki standing in for M and rapping much better than she ever could, saying cheeky things like “I’m not a business woman, I’m A BUSINESS, Woman!” Minaj’s second half of the song kind of saves it in my opinion.
Choice Lyrics: Madonna’s still the only queen…bitch. I can’t wait for Gaga’s little monsters to have aneurisms over that line.
You Like This Song If You Like: Nicki Minaj.
9. I’m A Sinner (4**** out of 5*****)
– If Madonna fused her 1999 hit William Orbit produced song Beautiful Stranger with say, some of her more blasphemous sentiments from Like A Prayer, then you’d get I’m A Sinner. Channeling some of her “fuck you” attitude she displayed towards her critics from her song Human Nature, Madonna cheerfully sings “I’m a sinner/And I like that way/All the boys and girls/Wanna be like us tonight” Madonna is always political even when it isn’t obvious, and I can’t help but think this is her way of giving her finger to all the Santorums and Rushes of the world, who thrive on their hate of gays and “loose” girls. At the end of the day, they’re just jealous, cause they wanna be like us, but don’t have the balls to be “sinners who like it that way.”
Choice Lyrics: Jesus Christ hanging on the cross/died for our sins/it’s such a loss
You’ll Like This If You Like: Beautiful Stranger, Madonna’s song Amazing from Music
10. Love Spent (5 ***** out of 5*****)
– My second favorite song on the album. Just the kind of pure pop magic that can happen when Madonna gets in the studio with William Orbit. The song starts with some country banjo of all things, then some disco-esque violins. This is another pointed song at ex hubby Guy Ritchie, where she pretty much accuses him of marrying her for her massive bank account. (oh, who didn’t think that?) More than anything, I love this song for the fact that at the halfway point, it just becomes another song entirely. With most pop songs, you know what the entire three to four minutes is gonna sound like by the time you hit that one minute mark; repetitiveness is the key to selling. Hell, Give Me All Your Luvin’ is a perfect example of this, and one of the reasons I hate most modern Top 40. I love that this song does not do that. I just adore this one.
Choice Lyrics: I want you to hold me /Like you hold your money /Hold on to it /Till there’s nothing left
You Will Like This Song If You Like: Don’t Tell Me, another Madonna hit William Orbit produced. Actually, if you loved either of the albums Ray of Light or Music, you’ll likely fall for Love Spent.
11. Masterpiece (2 1/2 ** out of 5*****)
– the song that won Madonna her Golden Globe for Best Song and made frenemy Elton John so very irritated. It’s a pretty song, but Madonna and William Orbit have done much better together, on this album and others. It’s vibe doesn’t match the rest of the album really, and it shouldn’t, as it was written for her movie no one saw W.E. It was a last minute decision to include it on MDNA, and actually, the whole song feels last minute. It’s not bad, its just…there. There are at least two tracks on the “Bonus Songs” that should have been included instead of Masterpiece. Ultimately, this is my least liked song on MDNA.
You’ll Like This Song If You Like: Sappy Madonna ballads like This Used to be My Playground.
12. Falling Free (3 1/2 *** out of 5 *****)
A much better, more interesting ballad than Masterpiece. Kind of a downer way to end the album proper, but its really quite beautiful, very melancholy without being cheesy. William Orbit’s fingerprints are all over this one, in fact it sounds like it is a missing track from Ray of Light. But again, that’s not really a bad thing. As far as break up songs go, this one’s a classic.
Choice Lyrics: When I loose a certain claim/That tries to know and needs to blame/Whatever ever runs the ground/It turns my hate and washes down
You Might Like This Song If You Like: The Power of Goodbye & To Have And Not To Hold from the album Ray of Light.
But Wait! There’s More!
The digital “Deluxe” version of MDNA has the option of having five extra bonus tracks. Some of these are great and deserve to be on the album proper, and some I totally get why they were left off. Since these are just bonus tracks, I’ll keep these reviews more brief:
13. Beautiful Killer
-Very 80’s inspired, this could have almost been a hit Madonna song in 1985. Well, except maybe for the part where she seems turned on by a gun being put in her mouth. That probably wouldn’t have flown on Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 40 radio show back in the day. I would have replaced Masterpiece with this.
14. I Fucked Up
-Not really a great song, but an interesting coda to a whole album where she spends so much time blaming her ex-husband for all her marriage’s problems. Here she admits, that despite it all, it was she who fucked up royally. But as an actual song, its not that great. Has its moments.
15. B-Day Song
-Her other collaboration with MIA. Rumor has it after the whole Super Bowl “flipping the bird” incident with MIA, Madonna pushed this off the main album. (She’s vindictive like that, so I believe it) Or, it could be that’s it’s just filler at best and never had a chance. This song is pretty much just about how Madonna loves to celebrate her birthday (yeah right. Maybe when she was a teenager.)
16. Best Friend
-Another song where she cops to missing her ex, you know…the one she tried to kill and called a bitch several times at the top of the album. With lyrics like your pictures off my wall/but I’m still waiting for your call/because every man that walks through my door/will be compared to you forever more. It shows M is more than a little conflicted when it comes to her feelings about one Mr. Ritchie.
17. The LMFAO Remix of Give Me All Your Luvin’
-I really hate to say this, but it is way better than the regular version.
And there you have it. If you’re a Madonna fan, there’s no way you won’t get this one, but if you’re a lapsed Madonna fan or even a new Madonna fan, get on iTunes and order this puppy already. MDNA officially comes out on Monday, March 26th from Interscope.