Monday, April 16, 2012

Singing Herself Free: Madonna's MDNA, Part 1

Has Madonna been eavesdropping on her loyal fan base?  Listening to MDNA, her first studio album in four long years, it's hard not to think just that.  The Queen of Pop's new CD is a diverse concoction of twelve songs, featuring every style that Madonna is known for and then some.  Prefer edgy, hardcore dance Madonna?  Check.  How about carefree, classic pop Madonna?  Check?  Breezy, effortless love song Madonna (think "True Blue," "Cherish")?  Check.  How about balladeer Madonna, missing since 2003's American Life?  Check, check, check!  MDNA (short for Madonna, and also referring to mitochondrial DNA) offers up everything a real Madonna fan could want, while also sounding completely contemporary.  It's a winning effort on all fronts: vocally, melodically, production wise, and yes, lyrically.

Here is my track by track review, with each song graded on a 1 (worst) to 10 (best) scale.

"Girl Gone Wild" : This is the album's second single, a throbbing slice of Eurodance adorned with flashes of techno, and one of the fastest songs Madonna has produced in years.  The song opens with a spoken intro, utilizing the act of contrition prayer that she also employed on the last track of 1989's seminal Like A Prayer, before exploding into a frenzy of beats and sound.  I have spent many nights dancing like a bat out of hell around my kitchen to this track (after my roommate has gone to sleep, naturally), and it's already Number One on the Dance Club Play chart.  Madonna's vocals on the verses are very Wicked Witch of the West gravelly, but she sounds all ebullient and energized on the spirited chorus: "hey yay yay yay yay yay, like a girl gone wild, a good girl gone wild."  Nothing groundbreaking here, but a super hot way to kick off the album of the year!  Score: 8/10

"Gang Bang" : The return of Controversialdonna.  This is also the most groundbreaking cut on the album, at least in terms of being entirely different from anything Madonna has done before.  The song has a hypnotic beat that is sure to make it another big hit on the dance charts and in the clubs, but there is never a substantial melody.  It's a beat-driven and vocal-driven song.  It's also the angriest thing Madonna has ever recorded.  Think "Thief of Hearts" from Erotica multiplied by ten!  She is on a rampage, hunting down an abusive (or cheating) lover and basically ... taking him down permanently.  Needless to say, this is a violent song, but there is an edited version of the album being sold that excludes this one.  I would say you are missing out, though, if you buy that edition.  Madonna sings in a weird, creepy, psychotic voice that sounds like nothing she's ever done before.  The lyrics are among the darkest she's written: "Bitch out of order, bat out of hell, fish out of water, I'm scared can't you tell" is just one sample.  Score: 10/10

"I'm Addicted" : MDNA's opening trifecta of dance tunes concludes with Track 3, the trippy "I'm Addicted."  It's pretty awesome to see Madonna crafting dance music this hard (and harsh), and "I'm Addicted" should go down as one of her best club songs ever.  Again, the melody is not as strong as it will be on other tracks, but the beat, the vocal, and the lyrics come together in an intoxicating brew.  You'll be addicted to this one, no doubt.  Score: 8/10

"Turn Up The Radio" : We now enter the refreshing pop section of MDNA.  "Turn Up The Radio" is one of the album's immediate highlights, and Madonna ditches the vocoder effects heard on parts of "Girl Gone Wild" and "I'm Addicted" to sing in her carefree pop voice, sounding youthful and hopeful in this tune that hearkens back to her 80s gems.  The lyrics are classic Madonna as well, espousing the radio (as opposed to the dance floor) as the ultimate way to escape the daily grind of life.  Madonna just wants to get in her car, drive really far, and blare the radio "until the speakers blow."  It's well sung, well written, with a fantastic bridge, and definitely one of the album's easiest songs to sink into.  Score: 9/10

"Give Me All Your Luvin'" featuring Nicki Minaj and MIA : This was the first single released back in January, with an amazing video and a Super Bowl performance.  It became her 38th Top 10 hit in the United States, but there was some concern from certain quarters that it was too much of a throwaway track, and thus some people had low expectations of the album (certainly not me, as I have loved the surf-rock feel of this tune from the beginning).  Nicki Minaj turns in a great (but brief) cameo, and MIA also shows up to recite a couple of cool, freestyle lines.  Madonna once again sounds young and carefree, and the song definitely works better in the context of this album, forming a candy cushion of pop bliss with the preceding "Turn Up The Radio."  Score: 7.5/10

"Some Girls" : Wow!  This one is like nothing Madonna has ever done before, somewhere between pop, dance, and new wave.  There are elements of 70s Blondie filtered through modern technology, and the whole thing just sweeps you up with the braggadocio of it all.  This is Madonna's "boast" song, as she makes it clear that she's not like some girls.  We already know that, but it's so much fun to hear Madonna singing "Some girls are not like me," and insulting those girls with "fake tits and a nasty mood."  Love the lyrics, and William Orbit's layered co-production.  Score: 8.5/10

That brings us to the end of side one of this album; stay tuned for my review of side two (it's really liberating to divide CDs into classic "sides," even though there is no such thing anymore).

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