[Rating: 3.5 Stars]
A lot comes to mind when hearing the name Madonna, but the most important things should be her songwriting and musical legacy rather than her celebrity status and scandalous sexcapades. After all, she has managed to sell over 300 million records, amassed a number one album in four different decades, and her Sticky & Sweet Tour was the highest-grossing concert tour by a solo artist of all time. With her 12th studio album, MDNA, Madonna begins a new phase of her multi-generational career, while reminding us of all the reasons why she initially made us pause and take notice her 30 years ago. The Material Girl’s eagerly awaited new album (her first since parting ways with Warner Brothers Records) features something for everyone: radio pop, pulsating club bangers, and even a smidgeon of balladry (something we haven’t heard from Ms. Ciccone in quite some time), all performed with ample musical panache.
Although it may not be guilty of being this year’s most cutting edge record, Madonna and her co-producers (William Orbit, Martin Solveig, Demolition Crew, and Benny Benassi), make MDNA sound both unique and contemporary. This 60-minute musical time capsule gives glimpses of Lady M’s musical past, present, and future. Yet, despite its profuse variety, MDNA is surprisingly unified and finds her at her most vocally impressive in many years. While no two albums have ever been alike, all of Madonna’s records have her unique musical stamp, which is a testament to her oft overlooked songwriting and production style. It’s also clearly evident learning to play guitar has greatly influenced her songwriting, most notably on “I Fucked Up,” “Masterpiece” and “Falling Free.”
MDNA is loaded with a rousing array of musical gems, including a fruitful revisit to the Ray
of Light playbook (“I’m A Sinner”), the rapid-fire rapper “I Don’t Give A” (featuring a fierce diatribe courtesy of Nicki Minaj), and “Love Spent,” most certainly dance music’s first inclusion of banjo sampling. Also here is the darkly violent “Gang Bang,” which finds Madonna blowing off steam about her much publicized divorce from film director Guy Ritchie (“Bang bang shot you dead/Shot my lover in the head/Now drive bitch/And while you’re at it die bitch”).
Unfortunately, the album also includes a couple of tedious throwaways: the laughable “B-Day Song” and the monotonous “Best Friend,” but overall MDNA more than lives up to its title’s triple entendre (an abbreviation of her name, a reference to ecstasy, and a nod to her own musical DNA) and serves up an ample amount of everything that is Madonna. Don’t waste time looking for a meaningful concept or theme because there isn’t one.
No, MDNA can’t be hailed as Madge’s best ever album, and it may not contain the most thought- provoking lyrics of her career (perhaps an intentional tongue-in-cheek poke at the current state of pop music?), but it is the reigning Queen of Pop’s most inspired work since Music, as well as the highly addictive record Madonna celebrants have been craving. Sometimes you just need to dance.