Interscope, 2012

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


Consider this one “The Attack Of Robo-Madge!” After not only splitting with her longtime record label Warner Bros., but her husband Guy Ritchie as well, there was no telling what Madonna would do next from a purely creative standpoint. The result has now come to us in a sleek, streamlined package with the triple-entendre title of MDNA.
But is it any good? Does Madonna have anything left to say – or reveal – about herself? The answer is yes, of course she does. Who wouldn’t have a lot to get off their chest (or in this case, bullet bra) after a bitter divorce and continual thumping by the critics? Remember when she dared to show how vulnerable she was after her divorce from Sean Penn on Like A Prayer, a masterpiece she has yet to top?
For me, the main sticking point on MDNA has to do with the track listing. Not only does Madonna put all the lightweight dance fluff up first, but she all but buries the important autobiographical songs as mere bonus tracks on the deluxe version ONLY! Note to Madonna: by not including “I Fucked Up” and “Best Friend” in the regular version, you missed a real opportunity to make a mature artistic statement. They’re some of the best songs you’ve ever written! On the poignant co-dependent theme song “I Fucked Up,” Madonna shows some rare vulnerability – something we really need her to show more of these days, while on “Best Friend,” she expresses how living in England was a double-edged sword and that losing Guy was like losing her best friend. It’s quite a change from the defiant tone of the bulk of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 MDNA, for sure.
Elsewhere, Madonna is all over the map with her moods and unfortunately, it’s reflected in the over-production of the songs (especially on “Some Girls” and “Love Spent”). It’s a dizzying affair initially, and is something of a mess, though that may well be intended as part of its chaotic charm. Yep, she’s hell-bent on revenge on the experimental “Gang Bang,” which, like “Thief Of Hearts” and “Revolver,” only adds up to a sick gun fantasy running in place ultimately getting us nowhere. Then there’s “I Don’t Give A,” which returns us to the hip-hop rhythms of the mis-fire Hard Candy, with Madonna challenging Nicki Minaj to something of a speed-rap throwdown ala “American Life,” (another disaster that will go down in infamy). Its “ho ho ho” ending makes it sound like a gangsta Christmas carol, I kid you not.
And now – wait for it – the good news. We actually get a breather from all the techno and processed, monotone vocals with some William Orbit guitar, which we haven’t heard since his stellar Ray Of Light collaboration with the superstar in 1998. There’s even a song titled “Superstar” to be found on MDNA. Both lyrically and melodically, Madonna is always at her best when she’s straightforward pop like she is on this mesmerizing ditty.
I appreciate the fact that most of the songs on this album are under four minutes – oh damn, I made another Hard Candy reference, sorry…Two other tracks that stand out and offer something we haven’t heard before are “I’m Addicted,” which has a cool, liquid feel and sweet synth-tinged melody, and “I’m A Sinner,” a track that seamlessly merges the style and theme of both “Ray Of Light” and “Like A Prayer” with its chugging rhythm and propulsive energy. Even “B-Day Song,” a duet with an unrecognizable M.I.A., comes a welcome change of pace, showing M’s cheeky and playful sense of humor.
All in all, MDNA is right up there with the best Madonna albums. It may be overly derivative at times, but it is certainly not boring.

Rating: B

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© 2012 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 Interscope, and is used for informational purposes only.