Album review: Madonna, MDNA (+video)

By Scott Kara

9 comments

Let's look at this from a musical point of view. Forget the Sex book, saving the children of Malawi, the perfume endorsements and the aloof, often kooky and cold Ice Queen you see in the occasional interview she grants.

Also forget that she is the most famous living musician of our time - and I'm also keen to erase from my memory her rather revealing publicity shots for MDNA which made me feel a little icky (hey, she's 53).

The photo you see here is at the tame end of the spectrum.

So let's talk about the music. Because that's how Madonna - aka the Material Girl, who the world more commonly knows as Madge these days since she's getting on a bit - made her name, after all.

It's almost 30 years since she released her self-titled debut album. Though in the last decade or so it's been easy to bag Madge, because her musical output has been patchy and downright dodgy (anyone remember 2003's American Life?).

She was at her best with the sparkling youthfulness of Holiday and Lucky Star, the raunch and scandal of Like a Virgin, Like a Prayer and Justify My Love, and later with the electronic dance pop of Ray of Light.

Her songs were never that challenging musically, but she made up for it with her attitude and that ever-changing image, which resulted in many provocative and catchy pop tunes.

On MDNA, her twelfth studio album, it's a mixed bag with numerous throwaway moments offset with some magical Madonna ones too.

Often it sounds dated, from the watered-down dubstep wobbles and belches of Gang Bang (one of the best songs here apart from its wannabe Skrillex foray) to the brain cell-sapping trance house pop of opener and second single Girl Gone Wild.

There are also times when it comes across as try-hard (once again, with the relentless ear-bashing of Girl Gone Wild) and intentionally goading, courtesy of the cheeky disdain of her "die bitch" tirade at the end of Gang Bang.

In saying that, it's Gang Bang that stands out. The collaboration with William Orbit - the beat and production maestro she worked with on her last truly great album Ray of Light in 1998 - writhes, pounds and hums along. It's the most adventurous Madonna has been in years.

And though it might sound like she's preoccupied with being a hard bitch, it's the brighter, sing-along songs such as I'm a Sinner - on which she coos "I like it that way" - that sound best, because even though the sentiment is about being a bad girl, musically it's an effortless and swaggering anthem.

Also in the same, breezier vein is Turn Up the Radio, and the steely electronic glitch and pulse of I'm Addicted (where the nod to Ecstasy in the album title comes from) is like Madonna-meets-Aphex Twin doing trance pop.

However, even though album guest star Nicki Minaj proclaims, "There is only one queen, and that's Madonna, bitch" on the puffed-up pomp of I Don't Give A, she's more like the Queen Mother these days. And that's not being disrespectful either because the Queen Mother was way cooler than the real Queen. It's just that MDNA proves once and for all Madonna's authority is not - and most likely never will be again - what it used to be.

Stars: 3/5
Verdict: Best album in 12 years.
Buy this album here.

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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