Album Watch: Madonna Serves Up Ecstasy & Heartbreak on 'MDNA'

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Age ain't nuthin' but a number---this we know. In the case of a female pop star, an expiration stamp is automatically stamped on them, and they usually are being chased by it throughout their careers. Not fair I say, but the exception to the rule, Madonna has always been. The 53-year-old Queen of Pop has always tended to take the Tina Turner route, as her roll has not been slowed no matter her AARP induction. Plus, if anything, her performance at this year's Super Bowl proved that she can still put on a hell of a show age and status be damn. Just that in 2012, she's not pushing as many buttons as she did during her 80's and 90's reign, and newer 'models' like Beyonce, Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga, are what's on the scene at current, but overall, Ol' Faithful Madge continues to challenge those flashier models as she's got about thirty years of grooves and influence on them in the Pop game.

So when Madonna released a pair of her new singles ("Give Me All Your Luvin'" and "Girl Gone Wild"), their outcomes began to divide fans into several categories. To a semi-old-timer like me, she was regressing stylistically, with the former being probably the worst single she has ever released. Never had Madonna sounded well...dire and predictable, especially on two lead-off singles.

Still you have to give Madge a break. I mean what do you do when you're being retrospected for a full episode on Glee? What do you do when you've influenced a majority of the pop chiclets out now? What do you do when one of those pop chiclets *cough* Gaga *cough* moves into your turf and has copied every single move and even a damn song out of your blueprint for music and culture domination? What do you do when you've flashed your tits, humped floors in wedding dresses, dated a plethora of men, and even made an erotic coffee table book blatantly titled SEX? What do you do when you've well, done everything remotely shocking and groundbreaking? This is the point we're at with MDNA, Madonna's twelfth album, and really it's not about re-invention or a new attitude this time out, more like we're experiencing her reaffirmation for the first time.

Propelled with the production talents of Benny Benassi, William Orbit, The Demolition Crew, Free School, and Martin Solveig, and featuring guest spots from Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.MDNA doesn't lie in it's mission. Right from the play on the acronym for Ecstasy in it's title, MDNA is meant to be potent and send you into a mind space of a frantic romantic. It's a knock-out-drag-fight of a dance album as for the first half you're given a heavy-loaded liquor shot of Techno, Electronica, Pop, and neon glow stick fervor with a theme that is all about 'sweating that man out of your hair'. In-between the heartache of marital demise and personal affliction, Madonna is practically a raging bull on this, cunning, surly, and cynical. She's mad as hell, and she knows it's her money, and she wants it now.

Hints of what Robyn accomplished on 2010's Body Talk and Kelis attempted on Fleshtone peek through, while seek and you shall find indications of past albums crop up. None of these things detract from the intent, and with this direction it feels like a full circle of Madonna's career is being drafted. She also quasi-apologizes for the detour of self she took with 2008's much dogged, Hard Candy as she's back on her Pop mark and fashions herself to the mainstream trend, but doesn't overstay her welcome.

She follows in the same sort of 'love hurts' dichotomy as 1992's Erotica and she blends it pretty much with the sinister club broods from 2005's Confessions On A Dance Floor. That collision is heard brilliantly so in "Gang Bang" as it pounds away nastily, locked and loaded with Madonna's snarling threats and heavy metal pulses. The blistering Kylie Minogue-esque "I'm Addicted" follows suit, which charges ahead in a shower of Techno shimmer n' sheen. While "Beautiful Killer" feels like an escapee from the Music effort, as it chugs along with strumming guitars and surging synths. Some "Papa Don't Preach" strings stick their way into "Best Friend" and it's skittish video game blips n' bleeps.

Don't think that the production is the only thematic portion of MDNA, as Madonna's wit is splashed all over.
The Nicki Minaj assisted, "I Don't Give A" is a zestful platter of loathsomeness where Madge outlines her torrid relationship and later divorce to director, Guy Ritchie, whom is (if you couldn't have guessed) the subject of the album as a whole. If the 1989 classic, Like A Prayer is to Sean Penn, Ritchie is called out multiple times in the grooves of MDNA---and jilted she is, but much more cunningly so than on Prayer. The most constructive hurt is splashed out on the exceptional, "Love Spent", which is all-around awesome in it's arrangement thanks to Orbit's attention to instrumental detail. It's intricate groove doesn't let-up, plus, who knew that banjos would fall right into a sea of synth work like that? Following that vein Madonna delights on the punchy pop tart wit of "I'm A Sinner" that bounces on a catchy air, and has hints of "Ray Of Light" embedded in it, while "I Fucked Up" rides on a country-fried symphonic plain that has Madonna actually pointing the finger at herself.

Sure there are some lags in the mix as "Turn Up The Radio" and "Some Girls" feel like cast-offs that just don't really hook you as they lack the luster. The clunky and hokey M.I.A. appearance on "B-Day Song" is akin with the jangle-pop of "Superstar" in that they are both generic and would be better suited for a Kidz Bop album---and that in itself is a bit disappointing for someone who has never been at that point. And even still "Girl Gone Wild" doesn't really do much for me, no never mind it's miasmic chorus and sexy boi music video.

Reprieved you are of all the biting wit, disdain, and party girl anthems, when the utterly beautiful Golden Globe-winning, "Masterpiece" glides in. The elegant and superior "Falling Free" in all of it's thematic thrills n' chills following close behind and it feels classical in a lot of places. These two greet you to the fact that one of Madonna's strengths is her craft of ballads and lyricism. Ballads are something that she often gets chided for, but to me, her ballads have often expressed far greater emotion than anything else she can do. In fact, when she tones herself down and turns the mirror on herself, she is much more naked in her struggle, and believable she is.  

Once you get over the fact that Madonna is now the Mother Goose of Pop (well, a sexy Mother Goose), telling stories that you know and can recite by heart, MDNA can be a much more enjoyable main course, especially if a lot of what she's doing here is not really pioneering.

On MDNA, Madonna might posses musical flair from her previous conclave of albums, but attitude is much more variant, and it makes this album a harder nugget to crack on first listens alone. You don't ease into a warm bubble bath with this, more so a cold shock greets you as if your water heater failed you. The trends from her end are already done and reheated multiple times over. She's not setting out to break records, she's not setting to prove herself, or is as hungry as she was to do so. You know the punchline, you know who the killer is within fifteen minutes of the film, you know what Madonna is capable of doing, and you know she's going to entertain you, and on MDNA she does.

What this album accomplishes mostly for Madonna, her fans, and probably her critics, is that it gives the 'new testament' to Madonna's 'old testament' of her past eleven albums. She's establishing with the listener that on twelfth album out, and decades in the game, that she's still, well, the Queen of Pop, and her place at the table doesn't need to rearranged or reassigned, all we have to do is step aside and just let her reign.

Note taken.

Release Date: March 26, 2012
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  1. Great conclusion & overall perspective. Though I like the toss away vibe, sorta '60's pop revamp, of "B-Day Song".-QH

    1. Believe me this was one of the hardest reviews I have had to do in the longest! LOL So your comment has me sighing relief, so thanks! This was a tough album...because on the first two listens I hated hated it, but I gave it some more shots and ended up really liking it. I mean it is much better than 'Hard Candy' even though I didn't find 'Candy' all that horrid even though it was very 'riding on Nelly Furtado's 'Loose' coattails' feel to it. Not essential Madonna, but she's having fun on 'MDNA' and she's at the stage now that she can relax and people just can't come to grips with that it seems. I mean, she's done everything.

      Oddly "B-Day Song" reminds me of Janet's "Whoops Now"...mindless fun, just that it didn't work for me this time out.

      I read your review as well, and I'm meaning to comment in depth, but you nailed it. One of the few reviews I've seen that actually 'got' the album and saw it for what it was :)

  2. Being a Madonna fan is a full-time job, lol. Didn't you know?-QH

  3. Rumor on Pulse and Madonnanation: "Madonna is set to open the billboard awards with a performance of girl gone wild and they are going to give her a special award for her record of 42 number one singles in the dance club play charts!"

    My bucket list concert is Madonna - I was going to try to go to KC, i just scored my on it is a Weds night!). I'm super excited about concerts this year.


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