It’s okay, we can all rest easy. The embarrassment of Hard Candy is well and truly over. No more hiding behind your hands, cringing and wishing Pharrell and Timberland would just leave the Candy Shop FOREVER. Soon those horrific memories of the farty beats of ‘4 Minutes’ and the utterly transparent marketing creation of ‘Urban Madonna’ (for the kidz) will be completely erased. Lessons have been learned, the most important one being: Madonna does not need to take advice from Justin Timberlake…she is not Jennifer Lopez.
If her last record seemed like a strangely craven, lazy attempt to cling to the zeitgeist instead of sourcing from the underground or shining a light on the undiscovered, then MDNA is all about making up for lost time. Opening with Madonna uttering the oath ‘Oh my God I am heartily sorry for having offending thee’ it’s as if she is apologising to the dance kids, the hardcore bitches and more importantly her massive gay fanbase that she bewildered with her flirtation with the vocally homophobic and sexist side of music.
As apologies go, our first taste seemed mealy mouthed and disappointingly nicey-nicey of Madge, skipping through the fun time froth of ‘Give Me All Your Lovin’’ with her new crazy, cool pals MIA & Nicki Minaj, she then gave us the Madonna-by-numbers soft-porn raunch of ‘Girl Gone Wild’. Had she turned into a faded facsimile of herself? Whither the darkness, the depth, the strength, and the deep vein of gleeful, mischievous insanity that ran through the core of all her best work? Thankfully, Madge was holding out on us, storing up all her brutally bonkers moments to be unleashed as one crazed whole, she’s not the Queen of Pop for nothing…
The excitement begins (for everyone but Guy Ritchie) on the reverse Nancy Sinatra revenge trip ‘Gang Bang’. Here she is cast as a demented assassin inflicting terror on her disappointing lover over a thumping, bleeping backbeat that descends into a chaotic climax with a frenzied singer bellowing ‘Die Bitch!’ as screeches and gunshots echo all around. It’s ‘Erotica’ turned nasty on steroids. Nice to see her mellowing a bit.
‘I’m Addicted’ is the bratty, drug fuelled twin of Mirwais’ ‘Impressive Instant’, the vital connecting link from Stuart Price’s glitzy disco of Confessions to the beat bleeding fierceness of Benny Bennassi. Along with the psychotic ‘I Don’t Give A’ it may well be MDNA’s linchpin. As it metallically whirs into life it rapidly sweeps you into the eye of the frantic, electro-hurricane, spiralling ever more blissfully out of control that by the time it gets to the air punching, drug chanting finale you’re just about ready for the comedown.
But Madge hasn’t got time for comedowns. She’s too busy charging through her own musical history, pulling apart the perfection created before, boiling it down to its very essence. MDNA is a concentration of the past to create something familiar yet original. Thus we get the breezy, pure hearted old-school bubble gum charm of ‘Superstar’ and ‘Turn Up The Radio’ distilling the girlish summery sweetness of ‘Cherish’ and ‘True Blue’ (a genre that her tough girl imitators have so far failed to capture) and the ‘Beautiful Stranger’ retro kick of ‘I’m A Sinner’. The latter touches on Madge’s ever enduring obsession with all things Catholic (and incidentally has the looniest and most unintentionally hilarious outro of any upbeat pop song ever) as she gives a ‘shout out’ to all her favourite saints from Mary to the arrow strewn St. Sebastian over a slappy ’60s drum beat. It’s an unforgettable lesson in religion.
One trip to the past that fails to yield the new rewards expected is Madonna’s relationship with William Orbit. Whilst he puts his familiar stamp on the aforementioned ‘I’m a Sinner’ and the oddly moving ode to Mr. Ritchie ‘Love Spent’, he cannot recapture the intense magic forged on Ray Of Light to make closing ballads ‘Masterpiece’ and ‘Falling Free’ memorable or original. They feel tacked on and at odds with the sweaty fiesta feel of the album. Indeed with the deluxe edition crammed full of gems such as the ‘Where’s the Party’ effervescence of ‘B Day’ and the brutally honest ‘I Fucked Up’ they could have easily been substituted.
Ultimately what MDNA offers is the ideal that pop doesn’t always have to be the newest, craziest thing to be effective; it doesn’t have to deny the past to be relevant. Fluidity is in pop’s bloodstream, uniting the old with the new to create a vision of the future, remade, and re-modelled with its own unique strand of musical DNA. Thank heavens it’s a concept that Madonna once again understands.