Hard Candy

Madonna

Warner Brothers, 2008

http://www.madonna.com

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/01/2008

Call this one “the good, the bad and the UGLY.”

On the plus side, Madonna leaves the rapping and sampling to the hip-hop pros: Timbaland, Pharrell Williams, and Kanye West. Justin Timberlake, thankfully, is used sparingly and there is a surprising amount of melody and giddy fun to be found on this, Madonna’s 11th and final album for Warner Bros., entitled Hard Candy. One listen to new yet familiar cuts like the ‘80s ode “Heartbeat,” the bouncy aerobic workout “Give It 2 Me,” and the fascinating ménage a trois “Beat Goes On” makes it clear that Madonna’s not quite ready to leave the dance floor -- or the boudoir -- just yet.

The two best tracks this time around have got to be “She’s Not Me” and “Spanish Lesson.” Let’s just say they made actually purchasing this album (with the garish and gaudy hot pink artwork and equally unflattering photo) worth it. “She’s Got Me” puts all the imitators and wannabes firmly in their place. It contains some great f-off lyrics and helps to end the first half of the album on an oh-so-sweet note. As for “Spanish Lesson,” something tells me that this could be a highlight in Madonna’s upcoming tour. The song fits in nicely with the other Spanish-flavored songs in her canon, namely “La Isla Bonita,” “Who’s That Girl,” and “Spanish Eyes.” Unfortunately, as was the case with M’s previous album, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Confessions On A Dance Floor, the best songs don’t always get to become singles or ever see the light of day on the radio.

One thought that came to me while listening to this set of tunes is in just how close this material sounds to that of its predecessor. If anything, it could be considered the inferior sequel. The disco ball is still spinning for Madonna, though this time it comes with an annoying and incessant hip-hop beat. I’m really interested to see how this album does with the American public. The question is whether the Timba/Timberlake sound is still in “vogue” or not. My sense is that that bus has long since left the station – toot toot, beep beep, indeed.

Madonna may have been recently honored with a prestigious Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, but a big chunk of her audience has long since moved on. Sure, she may get her wish and return to the dodgy Billboard chart scene, but her ongoing longevity and relevance is still going to be called into question. Twenty-five years is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but how can Madonna keep coming up with the goods as she continues to age past 50? Aligning herself with the biggest names of the day is only half the battle; finding something new to say in a fresh way will be crucial as she goes on from here.

I was fully prepared to rake this record over the coals, but now I’m second-guessing myself. Unfortunately, Hard Candy did leave me with a bitter aftertaste after hearing three tracks that are the absolute WORST she has ever recorded: “Incredible,” “Dance 2Night,” and “Voices.” If Confessions suffered from the overused electro-clash style, then the offender this time around has got to be the intrusive wood percussion instruments that make songs like “Dance 2Night” so painful to listen to. Had it not been for those damn “knock-knock” sounds and the lazy songwriting found elsewhere, I may have given Hard Candy a higher grade. And anyone who has a real ear for music will agree with me that “Incredible” and “Voices” sound as though they were mixed by a bunch of twelve year olds.

Madonna, or M-Dolla as her homies now like to call her, does succeed in molding this album fit into her catalog fairly seamlessly; she makes it her own. I was a little worried that she had turned over her reins to Timbaland and crew completely, but after hearing Hard Candy in its entirety, I am relieved and happy to have been proven wrong. There was no way she was going to let three men half her age dictate to her how to make a record. The back jacket succinctly puts things in perfect perspective – Executive Producer: Madonna. As if there was ever doubt who was going to be in charge…and hopefully always will be.

Rating: C-

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© 2008 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers, and is used for informational purposes only.