|Photo by: Amazon|
Key tracks: "Some Girls," "Falling Free"
If there is one lesson to be learned from Madonna's now 30-year career, it is that aging pop stars never die, they just jump on a different bandwagon. Despite all the shifts in pop music since the early '80s, she has managed to consistently stay on top of the charts by sculpting picture-perfect replicas of contemporary radio hits. Accordingly, her latest concoction, MDNA, is tailor-made to the sweaty local club atmosphere--synthesized beats, metronomic grooves and electronically-tampered vocals, all in a package whose title nods to the ecstasy-addled dance scenesters. Yep, she's hip with the kids now!
Except that for all of its posturing, it remains unclear exactly who will fall for the album's chameleon-like approach. Maybe you'll find something to like here if Lady Gaga or Rihanna are your dance seductresses of choice, but why rely on their 50-something pop ancestor to perform the same function? MDNA ends up as a record that is neither here nor there--too modern for anyone holding out for another "Material Girl," but without the authenticity of recent pop stars doing this kind of music.
Most of the songs, beginning with the leadoff track "Girl Gone Wild," fall under the category of catchy, but brainless dance raves, depending on simplistic hooks and Madonna's always high-pitched singing. Thumping beats, heavy production, no instruments but keyboards; all the marks of a recent pop creation are here. Those could certainly be worse, and will usually stick in your head for a little while, but their formulaic nature does not justify the existence of this kind of album in a world where generic dance music is turned out in droves.
Even worse, Madonna's ongoing quest for relevancy leads to dubious cringe-worthy moments scattered throughout. Nowhere does all the misguidedness come together better than on "Gang Bang," where she flirts with dubstep and robotically recites the inane and juvenile lyrics as if she believed in them with all her heart. Surely one of the seven outside co-writers of the song could have advised her against ending with a minute of desperately yelling out, "Drive, bitch!"
The effort as a whole ends up sounding cold and calculated, not in the least because Madonna herself feels like a bit player in these songs, inserting her vocals where needed rather than having any commanding presence. A few more personal touches would have certainly helped. "I'll play you a song on my guitar," she announces on "Superstar"--what a concept! Where exactly is that six-string, Ms. Ciccone? I can't quite hear it under all those MIDI layers.
To be fair, MDNA is not all bad news. As if belatedly hoping for a blast of artistic respect, she inserts two soft ballads at the end where she tries to sound genuine for once. All in all, however, those assets come in too little too late, as the true intentions of the album have already been proclaimed loud and clear by the likes of "Girl Gone Wild."
So here is my advice to you, Madge--give up this unwinnable battle to beat the kids at their own game. Stop leaning on outsiders to help you pen your tunes--you might recall that you wrote most of your debut album yourself.
And most importantly, start taking some chances with your songwriting, rather than letting the winds of pop culture blow it all over the map. Once you can let some distinctiveness shine through and admit that you are not, nor will you ever be Katy Perry, your records will start to be more than the latest club drug.
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