A Madonna album isn’t a true Madonna album without containing religious themes and imagery. As such, the first words uttered on the record are “Oh my God/I’m heartly sorry for having offended thee” which leads into a confession apologizing for her sins and expressing a desire “to be good”, cue Girl Gone Wild. Eventually she admits she’s a sinner in I’m A Sinner, and she “like[s] it that way,” which undoes any good the initial confession might have done. Such ongoing religious references from pop stars as of late have become dull and predictable but coming from Madonna, they’ve gotten thin and incredibly worn out. There’s little she can contribute to her material in the way of religion that can have any impact in the way similar efforts from twenty years ago have. So instead she’s courting controversy in other ways.
Some have criticized Madonna’s supposed glorification of drug use. And considering her audience as well as the audience of some forms of dance music, it would be an easy sell. MDNA itself is partially a clever play on the drug MDMA (ecstacy) while a track from the album, I’m Addicted, has its basis in comparing love to being on drugs – a common comparison in pop music. But for someone who recently admitted in a Twitter chat that she would never “use drugs”, the reference to them seems rather shallow. Also shallow is how vain the album is. From the underwhelming first single Give Me All Your Luvin’, to Some Girls to I Don’t Give A, Madonna doesn’t hold back when talking about how “some girls are not like me.” Of course, being who she is and her contribution to pop culture over the last three decades, she has every right to be vain but what she once held in class and elegance now feels cheap. Perhaps the support she got during the Madonna vs. GaGa days last year went to her head?
The album itself touches on many prior eras of Madonna’s career with nods to her upbeat 80s days, her more poppy early 90s hits, the recent decade of dance and even her oft-ignored mid-90s R&B influenced days. I Don’t Give A feels like an updated Bedtime Stories track while Masterpiece could have been a b-side to Secret, a hit from that same album. With that said, however, MDNA does lack the cohesiveness of her other albums. Despite it being immediately a step up from 2008’s Hard Candy, it doesn’t flow as well. (And if there’s one thing that can be said about Hard Candy is that it was consistent.) The first three tracks set the stage to what sounds like the second coming of 2005’s Confessions On The Dancefloor, albeit in an updated and more melodic form. Instead we’re hit with Turn Up The Radio, a throwback to 90s pop Madonna, which throws everything off. It’s a good song with hit potential but following three club-bangers, it’s pop fluff-sound seems out of place. Eventually, the album ends off with the R&B-influenced mid-tempo Masterpiece followed by the dramatic strings-filled ballad Falling Free, which is completely void of a drum beat.
Madonna has never been known for being an exceptional lyricist, rather her combination of melody and visuals as well as the social statements made within them that gave her the title she’s earned. In recent years, however, there have been some rather cringeworthy lines that have made this all too true. The opening line of the delicate Masterpiece cites the obvious: “If you were the Mona Lisa/you’d be hanging in the Louvre.” Some Girls and Superstar rely on their subpar production to deliver the goods where the lyrics feel stale and uninspired, the latter of which has elements that sound exactly like Hello by Martin Solveig, which is odd considering it’s one of the songs not produced by Solveig.
Solveig is behind three of the most potentially-dated sounding tracks on the record though. The aforementioned Turn Up The Radio and the two Nicki Minaj-collaborations Give Me All Your Luvin’ and I Don’t Give A. In both instances, Nicki is the highlight and if her role in the former is too short, she delivers a double-verse in the latter, which is the catchiest and most fun song on the record. The most interesting sounding song? Gang Bang. Madonna gives her slightly-accented verses over a driving, minimal thumping beat that has the potential to be the basis of her best video in years in classic Madonna style.
For someone who has delivered some of the best melodies and visuals in music over the last quarter century, MDNA is lacking. The Queen of Pop, who more appropriately may also be called the Queen of the Music Video and the Queen of Pop Culture Controversy has failed to deliver either in recent years. This record’s first two singles have come with resounding disappointment following months of high anticipation. However, Girl Gone Wild does sound much better when placed within the context of the album rather than as a stand-alone track which suggests that Madonna has attempted to place more focus on the album aspect rather than a collection of singles. There are some worthy tracks on this record and Madonna has succeeded in capturing the current climate of pop music but without her previous discography to back up her deserved place in the music world, it’s unlikely this record would have gotten much attention otherwise.
1. Girl Gone Wild
2. Gang Bang
3. I’m Addicted
4. Turn Up The Radio
5. Give Me All Your Luvin’ [featuring Nicki Minaj and M.I.A.]
6. Some Girls
8. I Don’t Give A [featuring Nicki Minaj]
9. I’m A Sinner
10. Love Spent
12. Falling Free