50:45 min • Live Nation, Interscope • March 26, 2012
MDNA is the 12th studio album proper from the musical chameleon Madonna, and it’s as bold and dark as the artwork suggests, with elements of personas of yore as well as newer components in the mix. Prefaced by the cutesy Martin Solveig produced-by-numbers ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’ featuring the smoking Nicki Minaj and the mysterious M.I.A., MDNA is without a doubt one of her most eagerly anticipated albums. And she certainly delivers the goods, armed with a team comprising of accomplished dance producers Benny Benassi and Martin Solveig, along with ambient wunderkind William Orbit.
It opens with the thumping Benny Benassi number ‘Girl Gone Wild’, which is reminiscent of his remixes of ‘Celebration’ with a chorus of “hey-yay-yay” that is impossible to get out of your head. The tone shifts deftly on the dark and sinister ‘Gang Bang’ where our muse takes on the role of a badass gangsta that Lana Del Rey may aspire to. The innovative, deconstructed dubstep obscurity of the track is welcome, but it falls prey to some rather hackneyed lyrics however, “Fish out of water, Bat out of hell”. This is somewhat ironic, as eight writers worked on the sparse prose, including Mika and William Orbit. Benassi then picks up the baton with the hypnotic number ‘I’m Addicted’ echoing Kylie Minogue’s maverick ‘Speakerphone’. While the track is a huge dance-floor thriller, the lyrics are, dare I say, quite reductive; the “Love Is The Drug” premise is hardly ground-breaking. MDNA is, in parts, quite self-referential but Madonna has always had her tongue firmly in cheek so can pull this off, as highlighted magnificently on the vocal stutters of ‘I’m Addicted’, where her highness appears to repeat, “I’m A Dick”.
One of the record’s lyrical misfires is the track ‘Superstar’ with its incessant name-dropping and self-referencing and lines that are far too contemporary, rendering the song immediately disposable. Although it is rather endearing to hear daughter Lourdes on backing vocals.
You can have the password to my phone,
I’ll give you a massage when you get home.
The album truly begins to sparkle at track four, the epic ‘Turn Up The Radio’ with Solveig’s beautiful spacey shimmer all over this future pop stomper. The French DJ truly shines with the vitriolic bird-flipper ‘I Don’t Give A’ on which Madonna finally nails a rap with some segments pouring with opportune lyrical disdain, only to be overshadowed by a fantastic, effortless Nicki Minaj middle-eight. This culminates in a fierce operatic ending that literally comes out of nowhere.
I tried to be your wife, diminish myself and swallow my light
I tried to become all that you expect of me,
and if it was a failure, I don’t give a…
It must be said that when William Orbit presides, the album truly ignites. ‘Some Girls’ is Orbit and Ciccone at their most glam. This synth-pop composition with diverse vocal styles builds into a genuinely adorable bridge. ‘I’m A Sinner’ is the nefarious sister to ‘Beautiful Stranger’ with some wondrous ’60s touches and an inspired recital of “Hail Mary”. And ‘Love Spent’ begins with an exquisite Romany guitar riff more than reminiscent of ‘Hung Up’ that reappears in the chorus.
There are however two stand-out tracks. The first, the sensitive and glorious ballad ‘Masterpiece’ where Madonna’s vocal is truly heart-breaking underpinned by an acoustic guitar, gentle drums and subtle strings. And the second, the ambient closer ‘Falling Free’ with a velvet-smooth vocal and ethereal undertones that resonate with the inner peace felt when the dust settles after an overwhelming sense of loss. The alchemic teaming with brother-in-law Joe Henry again proves pure gold, closing the album with the redeeming lyric, “I let loose the need to know, we’re both free, both free to go”.
The album’s deluxe release includes three further Solveig produced tracks ‘Beautiful Killer’, ‘B-Day Song’ and the magnificent ‘I Fucked Up’ evoking the genius of Neneh Cherry’s ‘Manchild’ before bursting into a brilliant bridge. In addition, there is a further Benassi produced track, the trancy ‘Best Friend’, and an LFMAO remix of ‘Give Me All Your Luvin’.
MDNA is a somewhat cathartic journey where we perceive vitriol, scorn and bitterness, but also elements of the carefree, fun-loving, acceptance and redemption. This makes for great pop record with touches of innovation and heralds a reinvigorated Madonna.