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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Madonna's MDNA: A First Listen

Posted By on Tue, Mar 27, 2012 at 12:37 PM

click to enlarge Madonna_MDNA_cover_art.jpg

Sure, I heard bad things about MDNA, but when's the last time critics actually jumped for Madonna? In the pre-"poptimist" era of 1999, with Ray of Light, I'm pretty sure. Music was a billion times better, and the oft-cited failure American Life is actually pretty strange and fun (vocoder and rapping!). But MDNA's single was lukewarm, and roundly and rightly considered so. Time to see if I can give our star any luvin' at all.

"Girl Gone Wild"

Awesome. Maybe Lady Gaga inspired Madge to do spoken cheesy

intros again, so she makes a quick confession, then we're off to the races. The

dry clarity of this casually morphing disco beat is on par with Music, her last great album and a good

sign. Yet it's extremely spare and calm as well -- at least for a lead track from a very famous pop singer

that begins with a faux church confession. Instantly catchy,

even for her. Good start.


"Gang Bang"

"Gang bang, shot you dead/ Got my lover in the head," goes

this loop. This is one of her sparsest tracks ever -- think Violator-era Depeche Mode and Madonna just intoning in a whisper over

it. Did you guess it was a revenge fantasy? Pitchfork

specifies it as a twist on her ex-husband Guy Ritchie's formula, but they

must find that guy pretty barren because there's not a lot to go on lyrically.

"I'm Addicted"

All right, so sparseness is the name of the game. The music

on these songs is remarkably dry -- and, I suppose, a bit rudimentary. This one's

fun though. The synth keeps evolving toward a glassier, more abrasive pitch,

and the hostess alternates between hooking and texturing. "I'm addicted to

your love" isn't the deepest lyric she's ever written, but if the title MDNA is any indication, she's paying

tribute to rave music that's not exactly Laurie Anderson. And succeeding. It's

a bit long though. And is that the talking synth from No Doubt's "Just a Girl"

that shows up?

"Turn Up the Radio"

The first real "song" here that's not just a vamp. Sounds

kind of like Kim Wilde actually, if she had access to Ke$ha's beatmakers. It's

remarkable how youthful Madonna's voice sounds, though she's made a wonderful career

of not exactly having to stretch it far to achieve pop sui generis. My main

problem with this album is that every song feels too long before it's even

halfway over, which means a bit more songwriting could've been fleshed out. I mean,

Music has some bridges, I'm pretty

sure.

"Give Me all Your Luvin'"

This one sounds better than it did at the Super

Bowl, but

the cheerleading doesn't really work in such a sparse context. Are we

aiming

for pop excitement or pop minimalism? And Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. remain

very

awkwardly tacked on. Madonna is the "me" in the title, and I'm the one who's

supposed to give her all my luvin', so who are these other people in

between and where do they fit into this simple two-person exchange?

"Some Girls"

Finally, a sound that hasn't exactly been heard before.

Madonna's version of an arch-accented LCD Soundsystem song, with ripped-velcro

synth grinding every which way. Kind of acid-house-y but also the best melody

thus far. "Some girls make a scene/ Crying in the limousine" is the

first quotable lyric on the album really, including that confession opener. But

maybe it's hitting its stride.

"Superstar"

The chorus "Oooh la la/ You're my superstar/ Ooh la la/ Love

the way that you are" sets a new standard for laziness -- both for this album and

possibly for Madonna's whole career. This is one of her worst ever. A

guitar-rock-disco song that's been filtered and phased to dogshit, so the music

is nearly toneless. What does it even mean? That she's very famous but she's

still the "biggest fan" of whoever she's currently luvin'? And among the

uncreative things she'll do for "you," "You can have the password to my phone"

is really gross, if any of those who thought Lana Del Rey's submissiveness was

retrograde still care.

"I Don't Give A"

Nice Joan Jett-cum-Sum 41 rapping on beat, with relatively

busy acid synths merging with equally boiled-over guitar. The album-as-a-microcosm I guess, but the hip-hop edition. Fun here, but fatally dry, like

much of this record. I'd like to hear a Ke$ha remix and see if it's capable of

exploding. And for extra-trendy confusion, Nicki Minaj's verse is introduced

with an unmistakable dubstep wub-wub-wub.

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Dan Weiss

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