There was once a singer whose popularity moved masses and whose records sold in bulks, most of her songs becoming instant hits and remaining on the radios for years, if not decades. Then that singer got old, and she decided she’d rather stop innovating with her music, instead going for surefire number one hits that both her name and carefully plotted collaborations with popular, yet talentless hacks would assure her. Then she released MDNA.
Truthfully, it is riding high on Madonna’s quest to set an unbeatable record as the woman with the most US number one hits in history that MDNA got released, third in a string of albums where Madonna ditches anything that resembles innovation or musical variety to follow what the masses are listening at the moment. With a name that constitutes both a thinly-veiled reference to ecstasy (MDMA) and the artist’s name, MDNA is on its core a dance album, just as Hard Candy and Confessions on a Dance Floor were. However, it doesn’t manage to reach the musical cohesion Confessions had, while at least managing to be more interesting than Hard Candy was… Yet barely so.
However, before I go on with destroying MDNA, I have to admit it isn’t a bad album. Most of the songs in it are more than listenable, some of them are fun and a couple of them could, perhaps, incite some thought. However, there’s absolutely nothing in MDNA that hasn’t been done before by Madonna or otherwise, the album coming up mostly as a sort of Confessions on a Dance Floor meets Dubstep meets Mostly Senseless Lyrics meets Talentless Hacks for Collaborations. No, it isn’t bad and yes, I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit, particularly the most electronic-oriented tracks yet it is quite hard, considering Madonna’s career, not to wonder just how much better the album could’ve been had she been in the state of mind she was in the Ray of Light era, where her songs were catchy and innovative and her lyrics were thought provoking yet easy to grasp.
In fact, the comparisons of this album with Ray of Light aren’t unfounded: William Orbit, who is considered responsible for most of Ray of Light’s awesomeness, worked again with Madonna in this album and – Not surprisingly – the songs he produced are indeed among the best of the album. Starting up with Girl Gone Wild, the album doesn’t start off bad – It isn’t really a bad recording after all – And things don’t really go down immediately after, it being followed by Gang Bang, arguably one of the best songs of the bunch. The following two songs (I’m Addicted and Turn Up the Radio) aren’t bad, though the latter one could’ve used quite a bit more work since by then the song start sounding a lot like each other.
Then disgrace hits, with the poor excuse of a single (Yet great excuse for a number one) Give Me All Your Luvin’, the lead single to the album and a collaboration with such talentless hacks as Nicki Minaj, a weak attempts at a singer who shouldn’t even be considered an artist. Not only is the song predictable and derivative, its lyrics are among the worst of the bunch (And that’s saying a lot, what with most of the songs lacking any substance). While to Madonna the song spoke of an easy rise to the top of the charts, to me it speaks of just how badly this woman refuses to understand she’s aging – Going to the extremes of acting like she’s fifteen and making her music regress two, nearly three decades in a failed attempt at showing the world she’s still cool. Though the rhythm in it is catchy, I can’t help but feel creeped out when I remember this is being sung and was written by a woman who’s nearing her sixties. The problem isn’t that it’s dance music either – Cher does that very well, thankyouverymuch and, though I’ll admit Cher is pretty ridiculous herself, it’s the way she dresses that makes her seem so. Her tunes and lyrics, however, have matured with her and most people will be fine with her music so long as they don’t actually see her singing it. And that’s just not the case with Madonna, who thinks that singing “Don’t play the stupid game ‘cause I’m a different kind of girl” is edgy for a woman in her fifties, while most people actually think it’s pretty creepy for an older woman to speak of herself as a girl.
Don’t even get me started on the quality of the vocals – though listenable for most of the album, in songs like Give Me All Your Lovin’ the vocals reek of autotuning and digital tampering, in an effort not so much to make Madonna sound on key (I’m pretty sure she can carry a tune well enough), but in an effort to make her sound younger, in the same way the cover art for her album and singles are retouched to make her look some good twenty years younger than she is. And if you don’t believe me, compare her vocals in this poor excuse for a song with the vocals in, let’s say, Superstar.
Things don’t get much better immediately either – Though less offending, Some Girls isn’t exactly a highlight of the album, being actually boring and the weakest of the Orbit produced songs. Things DO get better after that though, with Superstar marking a mid-point in the album, an upbeat song with a soft rhythm that would actually be great if it didn’t have such ridiculous lyrics, but then again that’s what the whole album does best: Sucky lyrics.
I Don’t Give A, sadly, brings the album down again with a fast, senseless song that’s made worse by a bad attempt at rapping by Ms. Minaj. Seriously, she should be banned from the airwaves. Anyway, thankfully the horridness of that song (Not made any better by its dramatic ending) is then sort of patched out by the last four songs – A bunch of Orbit produced songs that don’t even try to hide their throwbacks to Ray of Light.
I’m a Sinner is actually the biggest offender of that, with a background tune in its chorus that sounds taken straight from the title song from Ray of Light. Though not an amazing song (Madonna screaming about being a sinner makes my ears bleed and the lots of religious references are sickening), at least it carries a nice tune for most of the song. Love Spent follows, with more autotuned lyrics yet at least a listenable tune and a sometimes nice sound (particularly its latter half) – though I’ll admit it is no masterpiece. Speaking of Masterpieces, the first proper ballad of the album comes right after with that name, though sadly the song is far from what its title suggests: It isn’t bad, but it is a pretty predictable ballad with lyrics that could’ve been written by a sixteen year old. Well, at least it isn’t yet another failed attempt at a number one, and I can actually kind of listen to it without wondering what the hell happened to Madonna.
The album then proceeds to close with Fallin Free – A soft ballad that pretty much becomes the Easy Ride or Like It Or Not of the album, a song that was pretty much written to close off a largely upbeat album. However, it isn’t bad – It’s actually one of the highlights of the album, it does have the best lyrics of the bunch and, even when it lacks the attitude that made Like It Or Not so irresistible, its quiet sound sets an ambience so well that Madonna might as well consider going this way – It is definitely the moodiest, yet best written ballad she’s produced since Frozen.
So the bottom line for MDNA is, it isn’t a bad album – The problem is that it isn’t great either. The album reeks of a Confessions rehash and, though certainly much better than the horrible attempt at an album Hard Candy was, it just doesn’t get to do anything new and it fails to create an ambience that can grasp the listener from the first to the last song, something Ray of Light, Music and the original Confessions on a Dance Floor did more than well. It does have its moments and where it shines it does so brightly, not in small part thanks to Madonna ditching Timbaland for somebody with proper musical talent, but the needless collaborations with pseudo-singers and tampered vocals can really become huge pet peeves for the album. Join that together with very poor lyrics (No, Madonna, it isn’t cool to yell “If you’re gonna act like a bitch, you’re gonna die like a bitch!” in the middle of Gang Bang) and you get an album that could’ve been much more than it actually is, even when you know it will all sound awesome once she starts touring with it. I just hope this woman finally embraces her age and starts producing things that are mature, yet not boring. Fallin Free is a good start for that, at least.
Final Review Rating: 3.5/5
Availability: The album is currently available on physical and digital form from Amazon.com
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