Album Review: Madonna, ‘MDNA’

Album Review: Madonna, ‘MDNA’

With electro-house now the dominant noise of the Billboard Hot 100, Madonna responds with an unadventurous, but solid reflection of the sounds of the moment.

It’s been nearly four years since Madonna’s last full-length studio album, Hard Candy. After that record’s gauche attempt to ride the R&B sounds of 2008 — hiring producer Timbaland and pop star Justin Timberlake at, likely, an enormous fee — Madonna retreated slightly after that misstep, following up with reliable momentum-builders: a four-leg, 85 show tour and a stop-gap, contract-fulfilling greatest hits set.

Fortunately, Madonna’s au courant appropriation with MDNA is less awkward this time around. With electro-house now the dominant noise of the Billboard Hot 100, Madonna responds with an unadventurous, but solid reflection of the sounds of the moment.

MDNA features standard 4/4 dance-pop from DJ/producers Benny Benassi and Martin Solveig, and unnecessary appearances from M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj.

The best moments in MDNA are the most melodic, like the dark “Gang Bang,” “Some Girls” (co-produced and co-written with frequent Robyn-collaborator Klaus Åhlund), the soaring chorus of “Turn Up The Radio,” and the gorgeous “Love Spent.”

“Love Spent” is by far MDNA‘s highlight, a Madonna classic with surprising production (banjos, beats, and strings!) and a personal, lovelorn melody. Lyrically, the song also encapsulates Madonna’s post-divorce themes in the album as she sings, “I want you to take me like you took your money… I want you to hold me like you hold your money” and a plea for her ex to “spend your love on me.” After two verses, the track breaks down into an ecstatic dance-away-your-tears refrain of the chorus. It’s brilliance.

While MDNA doesn’t exactly put Madonna at the top of the pop heap, it’s a return to form, as her dance-driven records always seem to be for her (1997’s Ray Of Light and 2005’s Confession On A Dance Floor come to mind).

Madonna is no longer the pop pioneer of days past, but a hit-or-miss follower trying to catch the wave before it crests instead of joining it the moment it rises.

MDNA reveals more than ever that the answer to “What will Madonna do next?” is now, “What everyone else is doing.”