Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Ultimate MDNA Review

OK, let's talk about Madonna and her 12th studio album, MDNA.

Admittedly with all that she's been up to of late, her directorial debut W.E. and that amazing Super Bowl performance, I was a very worried Madonna fan.

Would she be able to deliver the goods on this latest record? Especially with her eagerly awaited reunion with William Orbit - the man who reignited her career at one point with the exceptional album Ray of Light. There was a lot riding on this being a success.

To sum up – she's nailed it. And in doing so seems to have produced one of her most personal lyrical efforts to date.

Tracks including I F***ed UP and Best Friend (featured on the Deluxe version of MDNA) are clear odes to her failed marriage with Guy Ritchie. Whilst tracks like Gang Bang (!) leave you wondering who exactly the star wants to shoot in the head. The lyrics screech: “Bang, bang, shot you dead. Shot my lover in the head.”

One thing you need to wipe clean from your brain immediately as the album starts is the fact Madonna is 53. She sounds 25. In fact, if this album was released by a Pop Princess then it wouldn't be out of place.

It feels centred and controlled whilst the likes of Gaga and Britney's latest efforts feel try-hard and sloppy in comparison.

This is one girl that still knows what she's doing and she's in control.

Part of the reason for such a slick record is down to who she's worked with. As always, Madonna's chosen wisely with her collaborators for this record.

William Orbit is in the frame on five tracks, French electronic DJ and super producer Martin Solveig provides the most forward thinking six tunes and ye olde faithful Marco “Benny” Benassi does what he does best and turns Madge into the dancefloor electro diva she's clearly still wanting to be.

Is MDNA her best work for years? In short, no. It doesn't reach out like Confessions on a Dance Floor – but it easily surpasses American Life and Music.

Is it an album I literally can't wait to have on my iPod following my one listen at Abbey Road Studios. YES.

Madonna's still pushing the envelope of her superstardom and MDNA is in no way a let down. It's just the next chapter in an already enthralling story. And I can't wait for you all to get involved.

Girl Gone Wild
Take her track Celebration, zoop it up and make it bigger and better. It's a club track that feels young vibrant and fresh for an artist like Madonna. It's techno-pop-ready-for-radio-heaven. Very Benny Benassi and very much one for the kids – without it feeling like a mum-of-four is singing it. Phew.

Strong solid start to the album, very catchy unapologetic 90s-inspired powered pop and totally in your face.
Still not convinced? Turn the volume up!
A lean, sleek, electro stomper kicks proceedings off the way Madonna means to continue – with the machine tooled precision of 21st century techno-pop, balancing the twin requirements of radio friendly hooks and dance floor drive. “Girls they just wanna have some fun,” suggests our fearless leader.
Now where have we heard that idea before? This not particularly original notion is the album’s central manifesto: innocent amusement over introspection.

Gang Bang
Let's get dirty and keep it mucky throughout. A stripped back filthy electro beat makes you want to get down. It's different to anything she's ever done. I especially liked the ending where she sings in a Human Nature stylee: “If you're gonna act like a bitch, then you're gonna die like a bitch.” And a shotgun noise kicks off. Boom.

A very dark deep house track with a little dubstep interlude dealing with murdering your lover and going to hell for it. It has Quentin Tarentino’s amazing “Death Proof” movie written all over it. William Orbit and the Demolition Crew did a tremendous job on this song which is partly spoken. Oddly there’s something sexy in this track as if it was inspired by the Erotica era. Think “Goodbye to Innocence” meets “Thief of Hearts” but way more edgy. “Bang Bang shot you dead. Shot my lover in the head… Now my lover is dead and I have no regrets.” Madonna ends the song with “Now if you’re gonna act like bitch, you’re gonna die like a bitch.”
A favorite.
Despite an unfortunate title that younger fans would be advised not to google, this is not (thankfully) some brutal sex romp. Rather, the title is a misguided attempt to distinguish itself from Sixties pop classic Bang Bang, from which Madonna borrows the central image of murdering a paramour: “Bang bang, shot you dead / Shot my lover in the head”. Sparse and atmospheric, with a stripped back electrobeat and low, drawling vocal, buoyed by bursts of sub-bass and developing into a solid techno groove, its one of the album’s odder and most interesting tracks, only sullied by Madonna’s dedication to leaving no lyrical cliché unturned. She is a fish out of water, a bat out of hell, apparently.

I'm Addicted
Euphoric and addictive. This song needs to be played loud and for the satisfaction of a dance floor. It's heavily Benny Benassi and by the end you want to get up and squeal: “I'm addicted to your looooovvvvve.”

First, people should understand that the snippet posted by Perez Hilton is the ending of the song. With its infectious beats, amazing futuristic sound and really cool lyrics about love being like a drug (“Feels like a drug and I can’t get enough”), you can’t help but end up being addicted yourself. At some point, the song even has a 90s Prodigy’s “Out of space” vibe to it.

Arpeggiated synth sequences build into fizzing swells and stabs, bleeping and swooshing all the way. Very effective digital pop that will sound fantastic loud and hard on the dance floor but, like so many songs on Madonna’s 12th studio album, lyrics appear to have been added as an afterthought. Does anyone really need another song about being addicted to love, comparing the rush of hormones with narcotics? The vocal cuts and stutters, so that Madonna repeatedly declares herself to be a dick, dick.

Turn Up The Radio
Why this wasn't the lead single on MDNA I'm not very sure. It's a stonker of a pop song. Her vocals are finally clear (well, not as worked on) and it gave me 'the tingle'. It's ready to go and an instant Madonna pop classic.

Another collaboration with Solveig and yes, the song has hit written all over it. We understand why Madonna’s Team would release it as a single. It’s very mainstream pop so people will love it for sure.
Very happy and uplifting.

Even in the age of the internet, it is still the radio that holds romance for our 54-year-old pop queen. Lush, shimmery keyboards frame a slow start, with Madonna seeking space from the crowd (or rather, in an effort to use every cliché available, “the maddening crowd”), before a nice, wonky synth launches a solid pop belter. Madonna finds herself “sucked like a moth to the flame” but the slamming dance floor outro should distract from lyrical banality.

Give Me All Your Luvin'
The track that divided opinion from the start. Notably, the song sounds a lot better on speakers that can make your skin quiver through bass. But it feels far more forgettable pop compared to much of the album.

Perfect for the Super Bowl. Happy song and great first single that did extremely well considering it was leaked on the Internet, months before.

Is the spelling meant to distinguish it in search engines from ZZ Tops’ Gimme All Your Lovin’? Madonna’s serial appropriation of perennially overused ideas might almost be passed off as some kind of pop parlour game.
The first single is the lightest, frothiest track on the album, deliberately dinky and cute, built on a burbling eighties synth and glam slam drum pattern. Its prime purpose appears to involve Niki Minaj and MIA represent all next generation female pop stars by swearing allegiance to the Queen with the chant of “L-U-V Madonna!”

Some Girls
Finally, an Orbit song. This is probably the most cosmic of his tracks he's done with M. Her vocal is almost tinny and echoes. Bit rocky towards the end but it's an exciting introduction to a new wave Orbit.

Electronic fury. You’ll either love it or hate it. The lyrics are really cool “Some girls got an attitude. Fake tits and a nasty mood”, “Some girls make a scene, shoot their mouth and talk obscene”…

Let’s give Madonna the benefit of the doubt and assume she didn’t know the Rolling Stones already have a song called Some Girls. Anyway, you’d never find Mick and Keith shaking their stuff to a mid-tempo groove with a deep electro bass line and stabbing synths. Producer William Orbit plays tricks with Madonna’s vocals, from intimate to echoed, tinny to seductive, but the intention is apparently not to portray Madonna as some kind of every woman: “Some girls are not like me / I’d never wanna be like some girls” she rather tartly declares.

This was the one I wasn't immediately keen on – but the one that's in my head. It's lyrically very simple and definitely one that the star could pull a guitar out for to perform on tour. She sings: “Ooh, la la you're a superstar/ooh la la love the way that you are.” It's a little rockier than the others and more conventional.

Madonna mentions Brando, Travolta and James Dean in what seems to be the only filler in the album. Sweet but forgettable, Madonna goes “Oooh la la you’re my superstar, oooh la la love the way that you are, oooh la la you’re my superstar, oooh la la that’s what you are.”
Oh well…

I Don't Give A
This is probably the most interesting track on this album. She's nearly rapping again, there's a hip-hop feel. It feels like the Human Nature of Erotica – and clearly sending out messages about her marriage breakdown. She sings: “I tried to be a good girl / I tried to be your wife / I diminished myself / And I swallowed my light / I tried to become all / That you expect of me / And if I was a failure / I don’t give a …”

This one’s Minaj’s second appearance on “MDNA” and it’s one of the best songs of the album. Penned by Madonna, Martin Solveig and Nicki Minaj, Madonna sings unapologetically about her personal life, her marriage and how she does not care about people’s judgements. The chorus goes “I’m gonna be ok. I don’t care what the people say. I’m gonna be alright I heal fast and I’ve got it right.” The ending is just powerful and amazing. Nicki Minaj says it best “There’s only one queen and that’s Madonna, bitch.”

There is real energy to this Martin Solveig production. Madonna delivers a raised middle finger to the world in general, and ex-husband Guy Ritchie in particular: “I tried to be a good girl / I tried to be your wife / I diminished myself / And I swallowed my light / I tried to become all / That you expect of me / And if I was a failure / I don’t give a …” (I’ve been trying to think of an obscenity that rhymes with “me”, but maybe I am missing the point). The ending twists into a big, autotune choral coda with the drama of a techno Carmina Burana. An album highlight, though Niki Minaj’s explosive rap rather shows up Madonna’s more static delivery.

I'm a Sinner
Back to William Orbit and the Ray of Light guitar has been found. This track immediately reminds you why Madonna and Orbit worked so well first time around – there's even a return to the Erotica dirty whisper voice. It starts fairly slow but builds and builds to an orgasm of techno. Enjoy the ride on this one.

A catchy happy sexy psychedelic 60′s-inspired song in the continuity of William Orbit’s previous creations for Madonna. Think “Beautiful Stranger” meets “Ray of Light”, and believe it or not, the sound remains very fresh and new! The lyrics are fun and serious at the same time, with Madonna taking responsability for being a sinner. She cites saints (Jesus, Mary, St Christopher, St Anthony…) and talks bible.
A perfect fit.
With Orbit back at the controls, this is reminiscent of the uplifting thrill of Ray of Light. Constructed on a drum loop, it pulses along with a fluid almost Sixties keyboard, building to a big, declarative chugging gospel techno ride, with Madonna exultantly declaring that, like St Augustine, she wants to be saved, but not quite yet. A breakdown into a recitation of Saints (Christopher, Sebastian and Anthony all get a name check) is effective, and it ends with “ooh ooh”s cheekily reminiscent of Sympathy For The Devil. Fun.

Love Spent
There's a gypsy string twang, a hauntingly high vocal and it's not instantly Orbit. Later in the song you realise it couldn't be more like him. It's about giving so much love that you're spent and, like the previous song, climaxes like a beauty.

We expected a heartfelt ballad but we got an electro-pop number that opens with a combination of banjos and violons. Madonna dabbles with vocal distortion while asking her latest male subject: “Love me like your money”.
Monstrous and addictive.
Gypsy string loop and brief, treated Spaghetti Western banjo flourishes introduce an almost organic feel to a very synthetic, stylised album. A pop song about love and money (topics the Material Girl frequently conflates) it weaves elegant electro patterns and builds to a big, throbbing chorus.

The theme song to W.E. brings the tempo right back down to a chilled vibe. This is the song that makes us realise that despite most of this album making us want to dance, the star is still able to chill out and relax those dancing shoes. It really feels like the come down song that gives you a big hug.

More than just a Golden Globe winning song, Masterpiece is perfection.

Sweet, gentle love song with a Spanish guitar loop, a light beat and flowing melody, filled out by synthetic strings. The theme song for her critically panned film W.E., she may have been thinking of Prince Edward when she wrote “honestly, it can’t be fun / To always be the chosen one”, but the message applies just as much to Madonna herself. For most of this album she seems determined to demonstrate that a 50-year-old mother of four can still cut it with the kids at the club. Yet, perversely, she sounds most at ease when she calms down a bit and acts her age.

Falling Free
Well this one was a surprise. It made me instantly want to hear her singing it with just a guitar and a mic stand. It would be an acoustic dream. Her vocals are crisp and penetrate. It's obviously a song about letting go – but will she ever truly let go of the career she's worked so hard for?

This song is slightly melancholic, yet uplifting at the same time. No beat, a naked voice. Madonna sings about how liberating the power of love is. Fans will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the vocals, for sure. This showcases Madonna’s voice at its purest. A piano, a guitar, some violins with Madonna singing “Deep and pure our hearts align. Then I’m free, I’m free of mind, I let loose, don’t need to know. We’re both free, we’re free to go”.
The first five tracks of MDNA are all produced by hit techno teams and the results are digitally sparkling, catchy and contemporary. The second half of the album is presided over by William Orbit, and while not as immediately hook laden, there is more sonic depth and invention. But only on the album closer is there a suggestion of a musical life beyond the hit parade. With a cascading, beatless melody and poetic, free form lyrics, Madonna’s pure, dreamy vocal has her declaring herself “free to fail.” It is a song about letting go, by a woman who, most the time, seems to be holding on very tightly indeed. Although out of character with the rest of this youth-focused electro dance pop confection, it suggests that Madonna may actually have musical and emotional places to explore when she eventually tires of setting the pop pace.